Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri reportedly passed out on Sunday morning, enjoying the view from the balcony of his safe house, which was located in an upscale Kabul neighborhood inhabited by top Taliban officials.
A US drone blasted Zawahiri off the balcony with a precision-guided missile that left the other occupants of his home unharmed.
Reuters found some irony in the wily 71-year-old terror boss who survived for years in the “difficult mountains” of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s harsh tribal region while avoiding a $25 million payoff from the United States, only to cash in on the comforts of a Taliban bed and breakfast. He literally lived in a little pink house in Sherpur, a suburb of Kabul with green streets, swimming pools and private gardens.
The BBC described Sherpur as “notorious” for its “expensive high-rise villas”, which are derided by other Kabul residents as the decadent spoils of corrupt government officials and warlords. The name of the neighborhood is often mispronounced as ‘Choorpur’, which means ‘city of thieves’.
Many locals insisted to BBC reporters that Zawahiri’s safe house was “empty”, possibly at the behest of the Taliban. Taliban guards quickly flooded Sherpur, threatening to shoot journalists who asked too many questions.
“We have seen non-Afghan residents in this neighborhood for the past two months. They don’t speak the local languages. We don’t know who they are,” remarked a local journalist.
— Reuters (@Reuters) August 2, 2022
An unnamed Taliban source told Reuters that Zawahiri had been living in a “very safe place” in Kabul since a few months after the Taliban took over Afghanistan last summer:
Other Taliban sources said the group provided the “highest level of security” for Zawahiri in Kabul, but he was largely inactive operationally and needed Taliban permission to move.
A Kabul police official described Sherpur as Kabul’s “safest and most secure neighborhood” and that the drone attack there was a “big shock.”
He said influential people from the former governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani had built spacious houses in Sherpur. Senior Taliban leaders and their families now lived there, the official said.
A US official said US intelligence had known that Zawahiri’s wife, daughter and grandchildren had been living at the home for some time. They confirmed Zawahiri’s presence later, after months of monitoring.
The National cited US officials as saying that Zawahiri used “long-standing terrorist art” to hide his true location.
Apparently al Qaeda’s trade doesn’t include advice like “don’t stand on a balcony where everyone can see you,” because Of Ethnikos sources specifically mentioned observing him on “multiple occasions” over “extended periods of time”.
Designers said the long follow-up interval was necessary to ensure there would be no collateral damage when a strike was finally launched. The moderate damage the house sustained during the strike – little more than a few broken windows – suggests that the drone that killed Zawahiri used a Hellfire R9X The “flying Ginsu” missile, which deploys blades from its fuselage to cut targets to ribbons instead of exploding.
The Taliban condemned Zawahiri’s strike as “an act against the interests of Afghanistan and the region” and warned that “the repetition of such actions will harm the opportunities available,” a brazen stance given the Taliban’s reported promises not to harbor al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The New York Times (NYT) on Monday is listed a Biden administration official who said members of the Haqqani network were detected trying to “conceal that Mr. Zawahiri was at home and restrict access to the site.”
The Haqqani network is a terrorist gang that is deeply connected to the Taliban, despite wild claims to the contrary by the Biden administration after the fall of Kabul. Several senior Taliban government officials are Haqqani.
The United Kingdom Daily Mail on Monday refers unconfirmed reports that Zawahiri’s safe house belonged to a top aide to Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani network and the Taliban’s interior minister.