At Time of Deadly Strike, al-Qaida’s Zawahiri Was Hiding in Afghan Minister’s Home
Likely successor Saif al-Adel expected to radicalize further, draw closer to Iran, Taliban, ISIS
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaida leader and successor to Osama bin Laden, was killed in Afghanistan by a drone strike in an operation carried out on Sunday night by the CIA. US President Joe Biden announced the assassination in a live, televised address on Monday night.
President Biden said on national television from the White House that Zawahiri “carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens.”
“From hiding, he coordinated al-Qaida’s branches and all around the world – including setting priorities, for providing operational guidance that called for and inspired attacks against US targets, President Biden said, adding: “Now justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more.”
At the time of the drone strike, Zawahiri was sitting on the balcony of the house where he was hiding with his family in the center of the Afghan capital of Kabul. The home was owned by Sirajuddin Haqqani, “who is not only the leader of the Haqqani, but he is also the interior minister of Afghanistan,” said Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director of the Counter Extremism Project and former coordinator of the ISIL, al-Qaida and Taliban Monitoring Team of the UN Security Council.
The Haqqani Network is a semi-autonomous paramilitary arm of the Taliban, which took over Afghanistan a year ago following the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops.
A house owned by the interior minister of Afghanistan had the most-wanted terrorist on the globe. This really confirms the fact that Taliban is harboring al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
Afghan journalists have reported that Haqqani’s son and son-in-law also were killed in the strike. A senior White House official said Tuesday, however, that there is “no evidence of any other loss of life or casualty in this strike that was a precise and calibrated strike targeted on one individual and successfully executed.”
“A house owned by the interior minister of Afghanistan had the most-wanted terrorist on the globe. This really confirms the fact that Taliban is harboring al-Qaida in Afghanistan.” Schindler told The Media Line.
Schindler explained that this is a game-changer for those who really believe that al-Qaida will not allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist safe haven. He noted that if Zawahiri was hidden in the house of the second most powerful man in the Taliban, it shows that they are willing to work with terrorist organizations.
Zawahiri, aside from being Bin Laden’s successor, was also the ideological mastermind of the terrorist organization, Schindler points out.
Zawahiri was an Egyptian-born physician who was appointed as leader of al-Qaida in 2011 after the death of Osama bin Laden, the previous leader and founder of the organization. Zawahiri has been linked to several terrorist attacks, among them the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Meryem Brahimi, a researcher who works on MENA political and security issues, told The Media Line that the strike on Zawahiri shows that the United States, despite its withdrawal from Afghanistan, is still capable of carrying out high-importance operations in Kabul.
Schindler believes this is a symbolic victory since the Americans were able to identify a very high-profile target in the center of Kabul.
He added that the US had been monitoring Zawahiri since April. So, US officials knew where he was, and they felt comfortable enough to wait from April until this week when all the conditions were perfect to actually carry out the strike, he noted.
This proves that the American information base is better than what many assumed after the US left Afghanistan, he added.
Brahimi says that the end of al-Qaida cannot be predicted through the killing of its leader.
Historically, she explained, there are cases in which the assassination of a terrorist organization’s leader has led the organization to adopt more extremist and violent agendas, and the new leadership, especially if it manages to take full control of the whole organization, will be more active and operate according to more ambitious and expanding agendas.
“But this is if the new leader of Al-Qaida is able to obtain a consensus in his pledge of allegiance, and not the organization’s disintegration by entering into a leadership competition,” she added.
Hazem Salem Al Dmour, general manager at the Amman-based think tank STRATEGIECS, believes that Zawahiri’s successor may be Saif al-Adel, also known as Mohamed Makawi Ibrahim Mohamed, as well as other names, who is an Egyptian currently residing in Iran.
“It is important to realize that the 59-year-old Saif al-Adel will be more effective and powerful, and he will want to prove himself through a series of events,” Dmour told The Media Line.
“I do not rule out that there is a bank of targets ready for planning and implementation that al-Qaida will execute soon, as part of the image reproduction,” he said.
There is speculation that Adel “may work on building relations with ISIS, Iran and Taliban,” according to Brahimi.
It is important to realize that the 59-year-old Saif al-Adel will be more effective and powerful, and he will want to prove himself through a series of events
Schindler noted that Zawahiri made the organization much more decentralized, which was more secure because there was no operation that had to go through him and then go back to the affiliates.
That is why Schindler believes that the assassination of Zawahiri won’t really affect the operational functioning of al-Qaida.
He added that, while the affiliates act independently, the leader of al-Qaida is responsible for ideological guidance and serving as the head to which the affiliates pledge alliance.
All the al-Qaida affiliates around the world pledged personal loyalty to Zawahiri. That is why, according to Schindler, it is important for there to be a successor; because, if not, the affiliate network would fall apart.