AMU Homeland Security Intelligence Original Terrorism

Did Afghanistan Harbor al-Qaida Terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri?

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice

On July 30, 2022, a drone strike killed al-Qaida terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri while he was sitting on the balcony of a safehouse in Kabul, Afghanistan. Prior to his death, Ayman al-Zawahiri was on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list for his role in the murders of U.S. nationals outside of the United States, conspiracy to commit murder and an attack on a federal facility that resulted in death.

The death of Ayman al-Zawahiri is significant because he partnered with Osama bin Laden and was heavily involved in planning the 9/11 terror attacks. He also helped coordinate other terror attacks against U.S. interests, including the USS Cole attack in 2000 and the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Following bin Laden’s death in 2011, Ayman al-Zawahiri took a leading role in the terror group al-Qaida and called for more attacks on the United States and its allies in recent weeks.

The Connection between Ayman al-Zawahiri and the Taliban

Some are now questioning if Afghanistan offered a safe harbor to Ayman al-Zawahiri during his stay in the Taliban-controlled city of Kabul. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan recently said, “We do believe that senior members of the Haqqani network, which is associated with the Taliban, knew that Zawahiri was in Kabul.”

If the Taliban provided protection for Ayman al-Zawahiri, that violates the 2020 Doha Agreement, created to prevent the Taliban from harboring terror groups. United States Institute of Peace (USIP) expert Dr. Asfandyar Mir believes that “they had no qualms about – once again – hosting the main leader of al-Qaida.”

Current Conditions in Afghanistan

Since the U.S. vacated Afghanistan a year ago – and the Taliban took control – the situation there has remained dire. According to Dr. Mir, it is the worst crisis in the world. Prior to the American withdrawal, Afghanistan didn’t recognize the Taliban as its legitimate leader. Since the U.S. left and the Taliban took over, a major humanitarian crisis is evolving.

RELATED: Afghanistan Withdrawal Generates Questions from Those Who Served There

Women in Afghanistan – and those who cooperated with the United States – are not safe. Since the takeover by the Taliban, Afghanistan faces severe food, cash and job shortages – and violence is commonplace with numerous journalists suffering injuries. Many secondary schools for girls closed their doors, and the Taliban cabinet continues to bar women.

Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISIS-K)

According to Human Rights Watch, the terror group Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) – the Afghan branch of ISIS – has attacked minority Hazara Shia in Afghanistan. The United Nations reports the Taliban caused around 40% of civilian deaths and injuries in the first half of 2021 – and half of those casualties were women and children.

The instability of Afghanistan and the terror groups that include al-Qaida, the Taliban, and ISIS-K present a future threat to the United States. The Center on Foreign Relations confirmed that al-Qaida and ISIS-K are growing in strength following the U.S. withdrawal, and ISIS-K has doubled its members in less than a year to around 4,000 operatives. It is now vital that these emerging threats in Afghanistan should rank high in the United States counterterrorism strategy.

RELATED: Modern-Day Threats from Afghanistan: The Taliban and ISIS-K

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Sadulski is an Associate Professor within our School of Security and Global Studies. He has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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