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KABUL/WASHINGTON: The United States killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri with a drone missile while he stood on a balcony at his home in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, officials in Washington said, the biggest blow to the militants since Osama bin Laden was shot dead more than a decade ago.

Afghanistan’s Taliban government has not confirmed the death of Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon who had a $25 million bounty on his head and helped to coordinate the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.

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 at 6:18 a.m. (0148 GMT) 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,” US President Joe Biden said in televised 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.”

Biden said he authorised the precision strike after months of planning and that no civilians or family members were killed.

Three spokespeople in the Taliban administration, accused by the United States of violating an agreement between them by sheltering Zawahiri, declined comment on Tuesday.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid previously confirmed that a strike took place in Kabul on Sunday and called it a violation of “international principles.”

A spokesperson for the interior ministry said a house was hit by a rocket in Sherpoor, a leafy, upscale residential neighbourhood in the centre of the city.

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

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

A woman who lives in the neighbourhood and spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said she and her family of nine moved to the safe room of their house when she heard an explosion at the weekend. When she later went to the rooftop, she saw no commotion or chaos and assumed it was a rocket or bomb attack - which is not uncommon in Kabul.

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