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)
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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


Gunmen kill 16 worshippers in Nigeria mosque attack

Updated 7 sec ago

Gunmen kill 16 worshippers in Nigeria mosque attack

  • Scores of gunmen on motorcycles stormed Maza-Kuka village in Mashegu district of Niger state on Monday and opened fire during morning prayers
KANO, Nigeria: Gunmen have killed 16 worshippers at a mosque in central Nigeria, a government official said Tuesday, in the latest violence in the restive region.
Scores of gunmen on motorcycles stormed Maza-Kuka village in Mashegu district of Niger state on Monday and opened fire during morning prayers, said Ahmed Ibrahim Matane, the secretary to the government.
“The bandits shot dead 16 people inside the mosque while they were praying,” Matane said.
Three worshippers were injured in the attack, one of them critically, he added.
Matane said one other person was killed in nearby Kaboji village as the gunmen fled the area.
“We are still investigating the motive of the attack and we have despatched military and police personnel to the area,” he said.
A police spokesman confirmed the attack but did not provide details.
Gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers for ransom known locally as bandits have been terrorizing communities in northwest and central Nigeria where they raid villages, killing and burning homes after looting them.
Although they are driven by financial motive, the gangs have been infiltrated by jihadists waging more than a decade-old insurgency in the northeast.
Residents in several communities in Niger state have lately reported an influx of fighters from the northeast who have been taking over remote villages.
The gangs have increasingly been abducting students and schoolchildren to extort ransom from parents and authorities.
More than 1,000 students have been kidnapped since December, but most have been released after negotiations with their captors.

Women protest the world’s ‘silence’ over crisis in Afghanistan

Updated 51 min 15 sec ago

Women protest the world’s ‘silence’ over crisis in Afghanistan

  • Around a dozen women risked the wrath of the Taliban
  • Taliban gunmen at the entrance to the ultra-secure area initially asked the demonstrators and the press to move away

KABUL: Women activists in Kabul held up signs that read “why is the world watching us die in silence?” on Tuesday, protesting the international community’s inaction on the crisis in Afghanistan.
Around a dozen women risked the wrath of the Taliban, who have banned demonstrations and shut them down using violence since taking power in August, holding banners affirming their “right to education” and “right to work,” before the Islamists stopped the press from approaching the march.
“We are asking the UN secretary-general to support our rights, to education, to work. We are deprived of everything today,” Wahida Amiri, one of the organizers for the Spontaneous Movement of Women Activists in Afghanistan, told AFP.
Their demonstration, addressing the “political, social and economic situation” in Afghanistan was initially planned to take place near the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
But it was moved at the last minute to the entrance of the former “Green Zone,” where the buildings of several Western embassies are located, although most of their missions left the country as the Taliban took control.
Taliban gunmen at the entrance to the ultra-secure area initially asked the demonstrators and the press to move away.
An AFP reporter then saw a reinforcement of a dozen Taliban guards — most of them armed — push back journalists and confiscate the mobile phone of one local reporter who was filming the protest.
“We have nothing against the Taliban, we just want to demonstrate peacefully,” Amiri said.
Symbolic demonstrations by women have become a regular occurrence in Kabul in recent weeks as the Taliban have still not allowed them to return to work or permitted most girls to go to school.
Last Thursday about 20 women were allowed to march for more than 90 minutes, but several foreign and local journalists covering the rally were beaten by Taliban fighters.


Pakistan, China urge world to send humanitarian aid to Kabul

Updated 26 October 2021

Pakistan, China urge world to send humanitarian aid to Kabul

  • A government statement said Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed Afghanistan by phone
  • The latest development came a day after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with the Taliban representatives in Qatar

ISLAMABAD: In a rare joint appeal, the leaders of Pakistan and China on Tuesday urged the international community to swiftly send humanitarian and economic aid to Afghanistan, where people are facing food and medicine shortages in the shadow of winter.
A government statement said Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed Afghanistan by phone, saying afterward that people there need international help “to alleviate their suffering, prevent instability” and rebuild after the United States withdrew and the Taliban seized power in August.
The latest development came a day after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with the Taliban representatives in Qatar to discuss a range of issues.
Pakistan and China are a longtime allies and along with other countries, they’ve sent humanitarian aid to Kabul over the past two months.
Pakistan wants the world community to unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets to enable Kabul use its own money to avert the deepening crisis.
Currently, the Taliban government does not have access to the Afghanistan central bank’s $9 billion in reserves, most of which is held by the New York Federal Reserve.


Myanmar skips ASEAN summit after its military ruler shut out

Updated 26 October 2021

Myanmar skips ASEAN summit after its military ruler shut out

  • Myanmar skipped the summit in protest after the regional bloc shut out its top general from its meetings

KUALA LUMPUR: Southeast Asian leaders on Tuesday began their annual summit without Myanmar, amid a diplomatic standoff over the military-ruled nation’s exclusion from the group’s meetings.
Myanmar skipped the summit in protest after the regional bloc — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN — shut out its top general from its meetings.
The group’s refusal to allow Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to represent Myanmar at the summit was its harshest rebuke yet of the country’s military rulers since the generals ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February.
Brunei, who is this year’s chair of the 10-member bloc, invited Myanmar’s highest-ranking veteran diplomat, Chan Aye, as a “non-political” representative but she didn’t attend the meeting, two diplomats said. The diplomats requested anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to the media.
Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry vowed late Monday to challenge ASEAN’s unprecedented move to downgrade its participation in the three-day virtual summit, which is being held by video due to coronavirus concerns. The ministry said it will only accept representation by the country’s top general, who heads its government and ruling military council, or a ministerial-level representative.
The talks will be joined by other world leaders including US President Joe Biden and the leaders of China and Russia, and are expected to spotlight Myanmar’s worsening crisis, as well as regional security and economic issues.
Biden’s participation will be the first time since 2017 that a US leader has attended the ASEAN summit.
The military takeover in Myanmar triggered widespread protests and led to a violent crackdown by authorities. Almost 1,200 civilians are estimated to have been killed by security forces, though the government has claimed a lower death toll.
ASEAN’s sanctioning of Myanmar marked a shift from the bloc’s bedrock principles of non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs and decision by consensus. Myanmar cited the violation of those principles — enshrined in the group’s charter — when it rejected ASEAN’s ban on its military leader from the summit.
Myanmar’s absence at the summit followed the refusal of its military leaders to allow the bloc’s envoy, Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, to meet with Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders detained since the military takeover.
ASEAN leaders called for an immediate end to violence in Myanmar in an emergency meeting in April and outlined a plan for dialogue between both civilian and military figures to be mediated by the bloc’s envoy. Myanmar’s Min Aung Hlaing attended the meeting.
ASEAN leaders are due to hold talks with their counterparts from China, South Korea and the US later Tuesday.
Ahead of the talks, a senior US official held a virtual meeting with two representatives of Myanmar’s political opposition National Unity Government, which views itself as a shadow government and had earlier sought to attend the ASEAN summit.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan “underscored US continued support for the pro-democracy movement” in Myanmar during Monday’s meeting.
Sullivan expressed concern over the military’s brutal violence and said Washington will continue to seek the release of all those “unjustly detained,” including prominent pro-democracy activist Ko Jimmy, who was the latest to be held during a raid Saturday.


US details new international COVID-19 travel requirements

Updated 26 October 2021

US details new international COVID-19 travel requirements

  • New policy comes as the Biden administration moves away from restrictions that ban non-essential travel from several dozen countries

WASHINGTON: Children under 18 and people from dozens of countries with a shortage of vaccines will be exempt from new rules that will require most travelers to the United States be vaccinated against COVID-19, the Biden administration announced.
The government said Monday it will require airlines to collect contact information on passengers regardless of whether they have been vaccinated to help with contact tracing, if that becomes necessary.
Beginning Nov. 8, foreign, non-immigrant adults traveling to the United States will need to be fully vaccinated, with only limited exceptions, and all travelers will need to be tested for the virus before boarding a plane to the US There will be tightened restrictions for American and foreign citizens who are not fully vaccinated.
The new policy comes as the Biden administration moves away from restrictions that ban non-essential travel from several dozen countries — most of Europe, China, Brazil, South Africa, India and Iran — and instead focuses on classifying individuals by the risk they pose to others.
It also reflects the White House’s embrace of vaccination requirements as a tool to push more Americans to get the shots by making it inconvenient to remain unvaccinated.
Under the policy, those who are vaccinated will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within three days of travel, while the unvaccinated must present a test taken within one day of travel.
Children under 18 will not be required to be fully vaccinated because of delays in making them eligible for vaccines in many places. They will still need to take a COVID-19 test unless they are 2 or younger.
Others who will be exempt from the vaccination requirement include people who participated in COVID-19 clinical trials, who had severe allergic reactions to the vaccines, or are from a country where shots are not widely available.
That latter category will cover people from countries with vaccination rates below 10 percent of adults. They may be admitted to the US with a government letter authorizing travel for a compelling reason and not just for tourism, a senior administration official said. The official estimated that there are about 50 such countries.
The US will accept any vaccine approved for regular or emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization. That includes Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines. Mixing-and-matching of approved shots will be permitted.
The Biden administration has been working with airlines, who will be required to enforce the new procedures. Airlines will be required to verify vaccine records and match them against identity information.
Quarantine officers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will spot-check passengers who arrive in the US for compliance, according to an administration official. Airlines that don’t enforce the requirements could be subject to penalties of up to nearly $35,000 per violation.
The new rules will replace restrictions that began in January 2020, when President Donald Trump banned most non-US citizens coming from China. The Trump administration expanded that to cover Brazil, Iran, the United Kingdom, Ireland and most of continental Europe. President Joe Biden left those bans in place and expanded them to South Africa and India.
Biden came under pressure from European allies to drop the restrictions, particularly after many European countries eased limits on American visitors.
“The United States is open for business with all the promise and potential America has to offer,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said after Monday’s announcement.
The main trade group for the US airline industry praised the administration’s decision.
“We have seen an increase in ticket sales for international travel over the past weeks, and are eager to begin safely reuniting the countless families, friends and colleagues who have not seen each other in nearly two years, if not longer,” Airlines for America said in a statement.
The pandemic and resulting travel restrictions have caused international travel to plunge. US and foreign airlines plan to operate about 14,000 flights across the Atlantic this month, just over half the 29,000 flights they operated during October 2019, according to data from aviation-research firm Cirium.
Henry Harteveldt, a travel-industry analyst in San Francisco, said the lifting of country-specific restrictions will help, but it will be tempered by the vaccination and testing requirements.
“Anyone hoping for an explosion of international inbound visitors will be disappointed,” he said. “Nov. 8 will be the start of the international travel recovery in the US, but I don’t believe we see full recovery until 2023 at the earliest.”
The Biden administration has not proposed a vaccination requirement for domestic travel, which the airlines oppose fiercely, saying it would be impractical because of the large number of passengers who fly within the US every day.