Al-Qaeda chief Zawahiri has died in Afghanistan — sources

Osama bin Laden, left, sits with his adviser and later successor Ayman Al-Zawahri during an interview with Dawn newspaper November 10, 2001. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 21 November 2020

Al-Qaeda chief Zawahiri has died in Afghanistan — sources

  • Arab News spoke to several security sources in Pakistan and Afghanistan to confirm Zawahiri’s death, two said he had died
  • If confirmed, Zawahiri’s death opens up a leadership vacuum within Al-Qaeda as two senior commanders in line to replace him have been killed recently

ISLAMABAD/KABUL: Egyptian national Ayman Al-Zawahiri, 69, has died in Afghanistan likely of natural causes, several sources in Pakistan and Afghanistan told Arab News this week, just days after reports of the Al-Qaeda leader’s passing made the rounds on social media.

Zawahiri’s last appearance was in a video message on this year’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
His death, if confirmed, opens up a deep leadership vacuum within Al-Qaeda as at least two senior commanders who would have been in line to replace him have been killed recently: Hamza bin Laden, a son of slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a US counter-terrorism operation, the White House announced last year; and Abu Muhamamd Al-Masri, believed to be Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, who was killed in Iran this year, according to media reports.
Arab News spoke to at least four security sources in Pakistan and Afghanistan to confirm Zawahiri’s death. Two said he had died. All spoke off the record as they were not authorized to speak to the media on the issue.




Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, alias Abu Muhammad Al-Masri, right, is sitting next to Hamza bin Laden, the son of slain Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, during Hamza's wedding with Al-Masri's daughter Maryam. The wedding is estimated to have been held in 2005 in Iran. (Photo courtesy: Alarabiya)

“He [Zawahiri] died last week in Ghazni,” an Al-Qaeda translator who still enjoys close ties with the group, told Arab News on Tuesday. “He died of asthma because he had no formal treatment.”
A Pakistani security official based in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan also said Zawahiri had died.
“We believe he is no longer alive,” he said, declining to be named. “We are firm that he has died of natural causes.”
A source close to Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan told Arab News on Monday that the militant leader had passed away this month, November, and a limited number of followers had attended his funeral prayers.
The source did not clarify if the funeral prayers were held in absentia or offered as Zawahiri’s body was being buried.
“What we know is that he was having some breathing issues and has passed away somewhere in Afghanistan,” the Al-Qaeda source said.
A Pakistani security officer who is privy to ongoing anti-terror operations said: “We have received the same information that Zawahiri died about a month ago.”
The source declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media on the subject.
Another Pakistani source, a civilian intelligence official, said Zawahiri’s last movements were inside Afghanistan where he was known to have been in “unstable” health. But the intelligence official could not confirm if he had died.
“To my knowledge he was extremely ill and had the issue of kidney failure,” the intelligence official said. “He was unable to manage his dialysis but I still need to confirm if he has died.”
US officials told the Associated Press this week they could not confirm reports of Zawahiri’s death but the US intelligence community was aware of the news and trying to determine its credibility.
A spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security spy agency told Arab News he had not heard about Zawahiri’s death and the organization had no comment on the matter.
Arab News has not been able to independently verify the claims by its sources in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Although Al-Qaeda has been overshadowed in recent years by the rise of the Daesh group, it remains resilient and has active affiliates around the globe, a United Nations counterterrorism report issued in July concluded.





Saif Al-Adl, Al Qaeda's senior military strategist at an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, January 2000. (Source:  Wikipedia)

Among the top leaders of Al-Qaeda who are still at large and could succeed Zawahiri is Saif Al-Adl, who is a head of the militant group’s Shoura Council. Adl has been on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists since its inception in 2001 and the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program is offering up to $10 million for information on his location.
*With contributions from Naimat Khan in Karachi and Rehmat Mehsud in Peshawar


Internally displaced Afghans look to foreign donors for help

Updated 25 November 2020

Internally displaced Afghans look to foreign donors for help

  • UN warns of ‘grave consequences’ for Kabul if officials at global conference cut aid

KABUL: As they huddle around a makeshift fire a few meters away from their tents, a group of men, displaced by decades of war in Afghanistan, recall the number of times former and current government officials pledged to provide basic amenities to millions of refugees during routine visits to their camp.

One man in the group, 42-year-old Shah Tawoos, points at a dirty stream of water which is making its way beneath the rotten tent – his “home” for more than a decade.

“Look at the humidity inside and the mud outside the tent, even dogs can’t and won’t bear this, but we have nowhere to go,” Tawoos told Arab News.

The tent is one of many located in the Charahi Qambar (CQ) camp, on the western fringes of Kabul, where thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) like Tawoos are denied their rights and are continuously threatened with deportation.

“Ministers and other authorities came and went, pledging to help us with houses, but nothing has happened. We do not know where the government spends the national budget and foreign aid,” he said.

According to the Internal Monitoring Displacement Centre (IMDC), the CQ is one of 47 camps that house nearly 3 million IDPs, who had their lives upended either by natural disasters or a fresh bout of violence since the Taliban’s ouster in the US-led invasion in 2001.

The displacements were triggered by fighting and attacks involving the Taliban, government and US-led forces, Daesh and other nonstate armed groups.

“In the first half of 2020, there were 117,000 new displacements associated with conflict and violence and 30,000 as a result of disasters,” according to the IMDC.

The CQ camp is filled with refugees from Afghanistan’s south where, according to the United Nations, more than 5,000 families have fled the fighting between the Taliban insurgents and Afghan government forces, specifically in the Helmand province.

The conditions at these camps are deplorable, with IDPs residing in tents either donated by local or foreign relief agencies or in small mud houses built using their resources.

The tents are rotting. Their condition, residents say, gets worse in summer when heavy rain and snow weakens the fabric, resulting in gaping holes.

“Our tents become infested with mosquitoes in the summer heat and unbearably cold in winter times,” Rahmat Gul, another resident of the camp, said.

He laments about the lack of electricity and water supply and highlights the plight of thousands of children who have no access to education or, often, food.

There are other issues as well, Gul says, such as unemployment and poverty, forcing some men and women to beg to make ends meet.

The camp first attracted attention in 2012 after at least 15 IDP children froze to death due to the harsh winter conditions.

The displacements were the topic of discussion once again during a virtual donor conference in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday where ministers from nearly 70 countries and officials of humanitarian organisations spoke about funding cuts and tighter restrictions on vital aid for Afghanistan, marking further challenges for a nation that is preparing for an early withdrawal of US-led foreign troops and grappling with the COVID-19 crisis.

“We want the participants (in Geneva) to act with caution, take firm measures for accountability and transparency from our government. Otherwise we fear that just like in the past, much of the aid will be squandered either by foreign contractors or officials in our government,” Gul said.

Ahead of the conference which began on Monday, President Ashraf Ghani said he hoped for it to generate billions of dollars of aid.

“The outcome of this pledging conference will heavily influence the country’s future development and our path towards self-reliance and peace,” Ghani said during the weekend in Kabul.

It follows a similar event in Belgium in 2016 where donors pledged to extend $15 billion in aid to Afghanistan for the next five years.

However, finance ministry spokesman Shamrooz Khan Masjidi was unable to comment on how much of the pledged aid had been disbursed.

“We would like a major part of the aid to be channeled through government budgets,” he said.

He added that the focus of all future aid would be on building infrastructure, repatriation of refugees and aiding the war displaced.

“Kabul had fulfilled the benchmarks set by donors for the last conference with regards to combating corruption and was open for accountability for the cash it has spent,” he said.

The Geneva meeting comes amid a deadlock in the talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators in Doha, Qatar, that have been going on since Sept. 12, as well as rising discontent with Ghani’s government at home and abroad due to soaring corruption, weak governance and the alleged squandering of state resources.

A recent report released by US watchdog SIGAR said: “The Afghan government makes paper reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than concrete actions that would reduce corruption, such as arresting powerful actors.”

Following the SIGAR report and ahead of the Geneva conference, Ghani’s government ordered the formation of another commission to fight graft.

However, Sayed Ikram Afzali, executive director of Integrity Watch, said that the government had “no will for fighting corruption and resorts to symbolic works for drawing the attention at international conferences.”

A survey conducted by the Afghan Civil Society Forum on Sunday said that 90 percent of participants believed that “the government is corrupt.”

Afghanistan’s last permanent ambassador to the United Nations, Mahmoud Saikal, said on Monday: “In this time of high corruption, it is extremely important donors demand strong accountability from those who claim to represent our people.”

It’s a thought echoed by UN Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. He also warned of “grave consequences” if the world turned away from Afghanistan.

“Failure on either account would see Afghanistan slide backwards with disastrous consequences, including further displacement, possibly on a larger scale…” he said in a statement on Sunday.