Biden touts strike that killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri: ‘Justice has been delivered’

President Biden on Monday hailed the killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, a key planner of the 9/11 attacks, who the United States targeted in a drone strike over the weekend in Afghanistan.

“Now, justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more. People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer,” Biden said.

Biden noted that al-Zawahiri was “deeply involved” in the planning of the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, had put out recent videos calling for his followers to attack the U.S. and allies, and “carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American servicemembers, American diplomats, and American interest.”

“We make it clear again tonight that no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out,” he said, noting that under former Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, the intelligence community had searched for al-Zawahiri. He was located earlier this year in downtown Kabul.

A drone strike with hellfire missiles was conducted Saturday night eastern time – Sunday morning in Kabul – that targeted and killed al-Zawahiri, who was standing on the balcony of a safehouse in Kabul, according to a senior administration official. The official said that the U.S. intelligence community has “high confidence” that the person killed was al-Zawahiri.

Biden described the strike as “carefully planned” and said he gave the final approval, which was on July 25, during which the president was isolating in the White House residence with COVID-19.

“I’m sharing this news with the American people now after confirming the mission’s total success through the painstaking work of our counterterrorism community and key allies and partners,” he said, adding that there were no civilians casualties and no family members of al-Zawahiri were hurt.

The killing of al-Zawahiri comes just a few weeks before the anniversary of the complete U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, which led to massive criticism against Biden over the chaotic departure and the Taliban quickly overrunning the government.

The president on Monday vowed to not let Afghanistan become a “safe haven” for terrorists.

“We will never again, never again allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist safe haven because he is gone and we’re going to make sure that nothing else happens,” he said. “You know, it can’t be a launching pad against the United States. We’re going to see to it that that won’t happen.”

Biden noted that he visited New York City’s Ground Zero, Shanksville, Pa., and the Pentagon to mark Sept. 11 last year and said that the memorials are a “powerful reminder of the sacred promise we made as a nation, we will never forget.”

The president spoke from the Blue Room balcony and the event was not open to the full press corps. The limited pool of reporters watched the president speak from a window in the Red Room, which was open so reporters could see the president. 

Biden had tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday with a “rebound” case of the virus, and so is in isolation again. The airstrike occurred while Biden was in his first stint of isolation and undergoing a 5-day long Plaxlovid treatment.

Al-Zawahiri, 71, succeeded Osama bin Laden as the leader of the terror group in 2011 after helping led the Sept. 11 terror attacks. He had been rumored to be dead but appeared in a video on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 last year.