The killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri is likely to deal a blow to al-Qaeda supporters and affiliates in India, officials said on Tuesday but expressed concerns over the Taliban sheltering him in Kabul saying such facilities may also be extended to terror outfits mainly targeting India.
Zawahari, who took over as the leader of al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011, has been killed in a “precision strike” carried out by the CIA at a safe house in the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan’s capital Kabul. The killing of Zawahiri is likely to affect the morale of Qaeda supporters and cadres in India. Recently, they were conducting waves of propaganda campaigns and trying to rebuild the al-Qaeda organisational machinery in India, officials privy to the developments told PTI.
This may also adversely hamper the momentum of its regional affiliates like the al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).
The extremely close ties between the Taliban and al-Qaeda is evident from the fact that Zawahiri was stationed in a posh Kabul neighbourhood. This close Qaeda-Taliban tie is totally against Indian interests, especially in the backdrop of the global terror organisation’s intentions to target India.
The Taliban providing safe haven to al-Qaeda may also be extended to Pakistan-based outfits such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Taiba that primarily target India, the officials said.
Separately, Indian security agencies assessed that infighting may intensify within the Taliban as the Haqqani network, which is very close to al-Qaeda, might try to take revenge over the leaking of information about Zawahiri to the US authorities.
An imminent concern for India is the fact that disenchanted al-Qaeda cadres may shift their allegiance to the Islamic State and its regional affiliate Islamic State -Khorasan Province (ISKP).
Considering the field operational capabilities of ISKP to mount spectacular attacks, any possible tilt from Qaeda ranks to IS warrants a serious attention, officials said. Saif al-Adl, who is likely to succeed Zawahiri, is a veteran field expert who spearheaded infamous attacks, including the bombings in the US embassy in Kenya (1998).
It is assessed that unlike Zawahiri, Saif al-Adl may organise more field campaigns for al-Qaeda to remain relevant and also to counter the attrition of its members to the Islamic State, they said.
Zawahiri, 71, remained a visible international symbol of the group, 11 years after the US killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Zawahiri was killed in a drone strike carried out on Saturday evening at a house in Kabul where he was sheltering to reunite with his family.
“I authorised a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield, once and for all,” US President Joe Biden said on Monday in a speech from the White House.
According to officials, Zawahiri was on the balcony of the safe house when the drone fired two missiles at him. Other family members were present, but they were unharmed and only Zawahiri was killed.