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Strike on Zawahiri delivers justice: Biden

The US has killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a "precision" strike in the centre of the Afghanistan capital Kabul, President Joe Biden says, the biggest blow to the militant group since its founder Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011.

Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon who had a $US25 million ($A36 million) bounty on his head, helped coordinate the attacks that killed nearly 3000 people on September 11, 2001.

US officials speaking on the condition of anonymity said Zawahiri was killed when he came out on the balcony of his safe house in Kabul on Sunday morning and was hit by "hellfire" missiles from a US drone.

"Now justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more," Biden said in remarks from the White House on Monday. "No matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out."

He said he had authorised the precision strike in downtown Kabul and that no civilians were killed.

Three spokespeople in the Taliban administration in Kabul declined to comment on Zawahiri's death.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid had previously confirmed that a strike took place in Kabul on Sunday and strongly condemned it, calling it a violation of "international principles".

A spokesperson for the interior ministry said a house was hit by a rocket in Sherpoor, an upscale residential neighbourhood of the city which also houses several embassies.

"There were no casualties as the house was empty," Abdul Nafi Takor, the spokesperson, said.

Taliban authorities threw a security dragnet around the house in Sherpoor on Tuesday and journalists were not allowed nearby.

A senior Taliban official told Reuters that Zawahiri was previously in Helmand province and had moved to Kabul after the Taliban took over the country in August last year.

US intelligence determined with "high confidence" through multiple intelligence streams that the man killed was Zawahiri, one senior administration official told reporters.

"Zawahiri continued to pose an active threat to US persons, interests and national security," the official said on a conference call. "His death deals a significant blow to al-Qaeda and will degrade the group's ability to operate."

Zawahiri succeeded bin Laden as al-Qaeda leader after years as its main organiser and strategist, but his lack of charisma and competition from rival militants Islamic State hobbled his ability to inspire devastating attacks on the West.

There were rumours of Zawahiri's death several times in recent years, and he was long reported to have been in poor health.

The drone attack is the first known US strike inside Afghanistan since US troops and diplomats left the country in August 2021.

His death raises questions about whether Zawahiri received sanctuary from the Taliban following their takeover of Kabul in August 2021.

The official said senior Taliban officials were aware of his presence in the city and said the US expected the Taliban to abide by an agreement not to allow al-Qaeda fighters to re-establish themselves in the country.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had "grossly violated" the Doha Agreement between the two sides by hosting and sheltering Zawahiri.

Until the US announcement, Zawahiri had been rumoured variously to be in Pakistan's tribal area or inside Afghanistan.

A video released in April in which he praised an Indian Muslim woman for defying a ban on wearing an Islamic head scarf dispelled rumours that he had died.

With other senior al-Qaeda members, Zawahiri is believed to have plotted the October 12, 2000, attack on the USS Cole naval vessel in Yemen which killed 17 US sailors and injured more than 30 others, the Rewards for Justice website said.

He was indicted in the United States for his role in the August 7, 1998, bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and wounded more than 5000 others.

Both bin Laden and Zawahiri eluded capture when US-led forces toppled Afghanistan's Taliban government in late 2001 following the September 11 attacks on the United States.

© RAW 2022