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Killing of Zawahiri draws praise from bipartisan lawmakers, Saudi Arabia

President Biden on Aug. 1 announced that the United States killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, in a drone strike on July 30. (Video: The Washington Post)

News that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, was killed in Kabul in a CIA drone operation over the weekend drew celebration from Democrats and Republicans in the United States as well as from some foreign governments.

President Biden announced the death of one of the world’s most wanted terrorists in a televised address Monday from a White House balcony, reminiscent of the speech given by President Barack Obama in 2011 when U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in a raid of the al-Qaeda founder’s compound in Pakistan.

The killing of Zawahiri in Afghanistan is seen as a political win for the Biden administration almost a year after a heavily criticized U.S. withdrawal from the country, which left it under Taliban control and sparked fears that al-Qaeda could reassert itself there.

Obama called the news “proof that it’s possible to root out terrorism without being at war in Afghanistan,” adding that he hoped Zawahiri’s death would provide “a small measure of peace to the 9/11 families and everyone else who has suffered at the hands of al-Qaeda.”

The Taliban government “strongly condemned the attack,” chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, calling the strike a violation of international norms and the agreement signed in Doha, Qatar, by the United States and the Taliban in 2020.

But a senior Biden administration official said the al-Qaeda leader’s presence in Kabul constituted a violation of the Doha deal and that senior members of the Haqqani Taliban faction were aware that Zawahiri was living in the Afghan capital and took steps after the strike to conceal his presence.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the world’s most wanted terrorists and a key planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was killed in a U.S. drone strike on July 30. (Video: Julie Yoon, Hadley Green/The Washington Post)

Messages of support poured in from lawmakers shortly after Biden’s address. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) commended Biden “for his strong leadership,” while Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the mission “a major accomplishment” that brought justice to one of the people “who helped orchestrate the cold-blooded murder of thousands of my fellow New Yorkers on 9/11.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in a statement posted on Twitter on Monday evening, similarly credited Biden for approving the drone operation, saying that “the world is a better, safer place” without Zawahiri. But McConnell urged the administration to come up with a comprehensive security plan in Afghanistan in light of the fact that Zawahiri appeared to have been living in central Kabul.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, wrote on social media that Zawahiri was “a monster responsible for the deaths of thousands around the world.” Two Senate Republicans — Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) — also issued statements late Monday, commending the U.S. military and intelligence community for taking down the terrorist leader.

Who was Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda leader and Osama bin Laden successor?

But Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has promoted conspiracy theories including one suggesting 9/11 was a hoax, slammed Biden for trying to “act tough on TV.” Greene tweeted that while Zawahiri plotted 9/11 and the bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole in 2000, “no one in America has been sweating an attack from Al Qaeda lately or even heard a thing about them.”

The group 9/11 Families United issued a statement expressing gratitude to U.S. intelligence agencies and the military for the “sacrifices that have been made in removing such evil from our lives.” But the news is also a reminder, said Chair Terry Strada, that for full accountability, “President Biden must also hold the Saudi paymasters accountable for killing our loved ones,” referring to allegations that agents of the Saudi Arabian government provided support for the 9/11 plot. Saudi authorities have repeatedly denied such a link. The 9/11 Commission noted in 2004 that it found no evidence that “the Saudi government as an institution or senior officials within the Saudi government funded al Qaeda.”

Following Biden’s address, Saudi Arabia swiftly released a statement welcoming the death of Zawahiri, who it said “led the planning and execution of heinous terrorist operations” that killed innocent people, including Saudi citizens.” The Persian Gulf kingdom became the target of al-Qaeda bombings after 9/11, most notably a 2003 attack in its capital, Riyadh, that killed 11 people and injured more than 120.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a close U.S. ally, later called Zawahiri’s death “a step toward a safer world,” while his Australian counterpart, Anthony Albanese, said he hoped that the relatives of victims would “find some small solace” in Zawahiri’s death.

Ellen Francis contributed to this report.