(Daily Mail) It was 6.18am on Sunday and the sun was still rising over the Afghan capital of Kabul when an American MQ-9 Reaper drone – circling up to 50,000ft overhead – fired two R9X ‘Ninja’ Hellfire missiles at a house in the city’s upmarket district of Sherpur.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s former deputy and leader of the Al Qaeda terror group since his master’s death 11 years before, had just completed his morning prayer – the second of the day – and was watching the dawn from his rooftop balcony in keeping with a well-worn routine.
Moments later, the 71-year-old was no more – pulverised into oblivion by the R9X’s 100lbs reinforced-metal warhead and six katana-like blades that would have silently popped out of the fuselage moments before impact.
It marked the end of at least 21 years of hunting by US intelligence and the military – seeking justice for the almost-3,000 victims of the 9/11 terror attack which Zawahiri had masterminded, and hundreds more killed in bombings on American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the USS Cole years before.
Zawahiri’s death means that all of the plotters of 9/11 have now been captured or killed.
‘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,’ President Biden said yesterday.
The strike was the culmination of six months of intensive intelligence work by the CIA which had tracked Zawahiri to the safe house, detailed his daily routine, and picked the ideal moment to hit him.
US officials said the operation dates back to April, when they received intelligence that Zawahiri’s wife, their daughter, and her children had moved into a safe house in Kabul, in the old diplomatic quarter that used to house Western officials and embassies.
The family was being kept under the protection of the Haqqani network, a notorious terror organisation run by two brothers and their uncle who are closely associated with both Al Qaeda and the Taliban – which returned to rule in Afghanistan last August after America’s shambolic withdrawal.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of the group’s founder Jalaluddin, is the current Interior Minister for the Taliban government and leader of the network. One of his aides is thought to own the house where Zawahiri’s family moved.
Over the course of three months the US carried out painstaking work to confirm that Zawahiri was also living there, which culminated with multiple sightings of him spending ‘sustained periods’ on the balcony.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks and leader of Al Qaeda following Osama Bin Laden’s death, was killed early Sunday in a drone attack on his safe house in the Afghan capital Kabul
An MQ-9 Reaper drone fired two R9X ‘ninja’ Hellfire missiles at Zawahiri as he stood alone on his balcony watching the sun come up, obliterating him with 100lbs metal warheads and six blades that popped out of the fuselage before impact
An image of the safe house after the attack shows how the missiles appear to have smashed through the floor of the rooftop balcony and damaged two of the windows in the room below – but did not harm anyone other than the terror leader
The strike was carried out early Sunday at an Afghanistan safe house the elderly terrorist had be holed up in, at 6:18 am local time and 9:48 pm Saturday in the US.
Smoke rises over Kabul in the wake of an early-morning US drone strike that killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda leader
Labeled by US officials as Osama bin Laden’s number-two, al-Zawahiri, 71, was a key plotter of the September 11 terrorist attacks and took over as the leader of the notorious terror group following bin Laden’s death in 2011