Ayman al-Zawahiri, the 2nd Chief of Al-Qaeda, was killed in a US drone strike by the United States Intelligence Agency, CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), on 31st July 2022, in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul.

A day later, the United States (US) President, Joe Biden, through the official social media handle of the POTUS (President of the United States), informed the US people and the world of an airstrike killing of  Al-Qaeda Chief Al-Zawahiri.

Al-Zawahiri was deemed one of the most wanted men in the world because of his confessed involvement in multiple terror attacks. He was featured on US Security and Spy Agency, the FBI’s most wanted list since 2001, and the Agency had put a 25$ million bounty on his head.

The drone strike killing Al-Zawahiri was the first airstrike conducted by the United States since the US military left the war-torn country. The operation gave much success to US ambitions in its war against terrorism, especially the Biden administration, given the disorderly departure of the US military from Afghanistan last year.

The sheltering of Al-Zawahiri was seen as a violation of the Doha Agreement by the Taliban. As per Doha Agreement, the Taliban were to sever ties with al-Qaeda and “to prevent the use of Afghan soil by any international terrorist groups or individuals against the security of the United States and its allies.”

Although, the covert operation resulting in the killing of Al-Qaeda’s chief will serve as a symbolic win for the US President, Joe Biden, and help his domestic approval ratings.

A widely held belief amongst US analysts is that Al-Qaeda’s core was significantly weakened and scattered following US actions in Afghanistan in the early 2000s.

The US military action in Afghanistan resulted in the emergence of multiple franchises in the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia, one of the most noted being al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

This won’t come as a surprise to most if the next leader of Al-Qaeda comes from an African affiliate, as the Sahel region of Africa will be crucial for the group’s future direction. The killing of Al-Zawahiri is unlikely to change this dynamic.

Impact of Al-Zawahiri’s death on Global Efforts against Terrorism

In recent years, Al-Zawahiri was reported to have very little influence over Al-Qaeda’s activities and was largely seen as a figurehead.

John Brennan, Former Director of the CIA, once described Al-Zawahiri as “an aging doctor who lacks Bin Laden’s charisma and perhaps the loyalty and respect of many in al-Qaeda.”

The killing of Al-Zawahiri can be called an inflection point for Al-Qaeda as both main figures of the organization are dead, and the organization has not been able to carry out a major terrorist attack in recent years.

Al-Qaeda’s future also depends a lot on who becomes Al-Qaeda’s next chief as over a month has passed since Al-Zawahiri’s death, but no clear successor has emerged yet.

USA’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence commented this year, “Al-Qaeda probably will gauge its ability to operate in Afghanistan under Taliban restrictions and will focus on maintaining its haven before seeking to conduct or support external operations from Afghanistan.”

As per a recent United Nations report published before Al-Zawahiri’s death, “Al-Qaeda is not viewed as posing an immediate international threat from its haven in Afghanistan because it lacks an external operational capability” and that the leadership of Al-Qaeda “does not currently wish to cause the Taliban international difficulty or embarrassment”.

Al-Zawahiri can be said to be one of the few remaining people who served to hold and unite the widely dispersed Al-Qaeda network together.

Another view widely circulating in the West is that Al-Qaeda somewhat lost its status as the leading group in the global jihadist movement with the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the mid-2010s.

Who was Al-Zawahiri?

Ayman Al-Zawahiri was born in Egypt in 1951 and belonged to an affluent family having connections in politics and medics. Al-Zawahiri became a revolutionary at a very young age and advocated for the Islamization of Egypt at age 15.

He is thought to have joined Al-Qaeda in the mid-1980s during a meeting with Osama bin Laden, the Founder and the 1st Chief of Al-Qaeda (An organization held responsible for many terror attacks, including the September 11 Attacks).

Al-Zawahiri was a surgeon by profession and is said to be an aide and a surgeon to Bin Laden. After Bin Laden was killed in May 2011, Al-Zawahiri succeeded him and became the 2nd General Emir of Al-Qaeda after a consensus among senior members of Al-Qaeda.

Al-Zawahiri was responsible for many global terrorist attacks, including the 1995 attacks on the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, the 1998 US Embassy bombings in  Africa, and September 11 Attacks in New York.

Before September 11 Attacks and long before Bin Laden’s death, Al-Zawahiri had become the deputy of Osama bin Laden and worked as the operational and strategic commander of Al-Qaeda, overseeing the organization’s all affairs.

After a decade of killing Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, the US Intelligence Agencies were able to locate and attack Al-Zawahiri at his residence in the Afghan Capital, Kabul.

The death and aftermath

In summary, Al-Zawahiri’s death probably signals a new and perhaps the final chapter of the legacy Al-Qaida that started in Afghanistan in the late 1980s.

But his death also does not eliminate the overall terrorism threat from al-Qaeda’s affiliated groups or other such jihadist groups from the world.

*The writer is a Research Fellow at the Diplomatic Insight

**The Diplomatic Insight does not take any position on issues. The views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Diplomatic Insight and its staff.