How Al-Qaeda Chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri's Reading Habit Got Him Killed | Explained

As per a report, Ayman al-Zawahri's "long balcony visits" allowed the CIA to carry out a precision strike that killed the al-Qaeda chief.

By Aalok Sensharma
Updated: Wed, 03 Aug 2022 02:35 PM IST
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How Al-Qaeda Chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri's Reading Habit Got Him Killed | Explained
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a drone strike over the weekend. (Photo: ANI)

Ayman al-Zawahiri used to like to read alone on the balcony of his safe house in Afghanistan's capital Kabul, but this habit of the Al-Qaeda chief led to his death, a report claimed on Tuesday, noting that US intelligence agencies had noticed this pattern and took this opportunity to carry out a precision strike against him.

In its report titled 'How the CIA Tracked the Leader of Al Qaeda', The New York Times (NYT) said agencies keep looking for "pattern-of-life intelligence" in a bid to neutralise threats. In al-Zawahri's case, his "long balcony visits" allowed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to carry out a precision strike that killed him.

"Intelligence officers made a crucial discovery this spring after tracking Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of Al Qaeda, to Kabul, Afghanistan: He liked to read alone on the balcony of his safe house early in the morning," the report said.

The NYT report also claimed that after confirming the location of al-Zawahri, the CIA "followed the playbook it wrote during the hunt for (Osama) Bin Laden" and built a model of the site and sought to learn everything about it.

"Analysts eventually identified a figure who lingered on the balcony reading, but never left the house, as al-Zawahiri," it said. "Sunday morning in Kabul, it did. A drone flown by the CIA found al-Zawahri on his balcony. The agency operatives fired the missile, ending a more than two-decade-long hunt."

Senior officials at the White House, the report said, were briefed about al-Zawahri's safe house on April 1. On July 1, officials briefed US President Joe Biden about al-Zawahri. He was also shown a model of the safe house.

Biden "asked about the possibility of collateral damage, prodding" CIA director William Burns to take him "through the steps of how officers had found al-Zawahri and confirmed his information, and their plans to kill him."

The report also claimed that al-Zawahri was in touch with Haqqani network officials, which "led US intelligence officials to the safe house" where he was hiding. It said that Qaeda chief may have returned to Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the US forces.

"Senior Taliban leaders occasionally met at the house, but American officials do not know how many knew that the Haqqanis were hiding al-Zawahri. If some senior Taliban officials did not know that the Haqqanis had allowed al-Zawahri to return, his killing could drive a wedge between the groups," the report said.

"There was a renewed effort to figure out where he was," the report quoted former CIA officer Mick Mulroy as saying. "The one good thing that might have come out of withdrawing from Afghanistan is that certain high-level terrorist figures would then think it is safe for them to be there."

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