Known as the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks, al Qaeda leader Al Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri has been one of America’s most popular figures for more than two decades.
Egyptian-born al-Zawahiri, a trained surgeon, was Osama bin Laden’s number two and took over al-Qaeda after bin Laden was killed in a US raid in 2011.
He played a key role in planning the September 11 attacks; he was indicted in absentia for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people; he is believed to have planned the 2000 attacks on the USS Cole The attack on the aircraft carrier killed 17 sailors.
The FBI listed him as the world’s most wanted terrorist and offered a $25 million reward for intelligence.
Zawahiri, 71, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, President Joe Biden announced Monday.
“Now that justice has been served, the terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said.
Al-Zawahiri was born into a politically-backed family in Cairo and earned degrees in medicine and surgery before joining Egypt’s Islamic Jihad in 1979.
He came to international attention in 1981 when he was accused of plotting to assassinate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He accused the guards of torture and was sentenced to three years in prison.
After his release in 1984, he traveled to Afghanistan, when the struggle against the Soviet Union was at its height, and then to Pakistan, where he met bin Laden.
In 1998, Zawahiri merged his Islamic Jihad with bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, becoming bin Laden’s deputy and chief Islamic thinker. In the same year, bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and others issued a statement calling for the killing of Americans around the world.
Biden said Zawahiri “leaves a trail of murder and violence for American citizens, American service members, American diplomats and American interests.”
But Zawahiri’s violence was not limited to Americans. He was a leading figure in the campaign to overthrow the Egyptian government in the 1990s, killing more than 1,200 Egyptians, Reuters reports.
The group unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Ethiopia in 1995. But it bombed the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan that year, killing 16 people and two bombers.
“This man is Zawahiri, who has been involved in terror for the past 40 years,” former CIA director John Brennan said on MSNBC Monday.
From 2001 to 2007, Al-Zawahiri survived four attempts to kill or capture him, according to NBC News.
In 2001, he was targeted twice during the fighting in Tora Bora, Afghanistan; in 2006, a Hellfire missile was fired from a site in Pakistan, where he is believed to be, but Zawahiri posted a video showing him Still alive; in 2007 there was an attack on Tora Bora, looking for him but not finding him.
Zawahiri was killed in a CIA drone strike, two people with knowledge of the matter told NBC News.
Biden said U.S. intelligence found al-Zawahiri earlier this year, and the al Qaeda leader had moved to downtown Kabul to be with his family.
Biden said he authorized the strike to kill him. No family members of Zawahiri or any other civilians were injured, Biden said.
A senior administration official said two Hellfire missiles were fired at Zawahiri while he was on the balcony of the safe house.
The deadly airstrike came nearly a year after the United States completed its military withdrawal from Afghanistan after more than 20 years of war.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said late Monday that the United States is aware that al Qaeda is re-establishing a presence in Afghanistan but will continue to monitor the threat.
“Mr. al-Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul has certainly stood the test of time as he has been actively plotting and plotting future threats to our homeland,” Kirby said on MSNBC.
The Sept. 11 attack killed 2,977 people, including 343 New York City firefighters, 23 NYPD officers and 37 Port Authority police officers.
Another 290 firefighters also died from 9/11-related illnesses, said Andrew Ansbro, president of the FDNY-Uniformed Firefighters Association.
“This action by the United States reminds every terrorist involved in planning these attacks that the American people will never forget,” he said in a statement.