Foreign Policy

U.S. Kills Al Qaeda Leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Will It Matter?

Plus: Judge rejects "terrorism" label for January 6 defendant, dozens of abortion clinics have closed since June, FTC staff recommended against Meta lawsuit, and more...


"Justice has been delivered," President Joe Biden said from the White House yesterday, announcing that the U.S. had "successfully conducted an airstrike in Kabul, Afghanistan that killed the amir of Al Qaeda, Ayman Al-Zawahiri." The 71-year-old Al-Zawahiri helped plan the 9/11 attacks and took over Al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden's death.

"The administration began moving forward with its plan to strike Zawahiri, 71, in April, after intelligence indicated he had moved into a safehouse with his wife, daughter and grandchildren," notes TIME magazine. "Four months later, two missiles slammed into Zawahiri's safehouse as he stood outside on the balcony taking in the morning air, according to a senior administration official. … After the strike Sunday morning, Zawahiri's wife, daughter and grandchildren could be seen fleeing the home, the official said. The administration alleges no civilians were killed."

Biden spun the hit as a matter of justice and resolve, saying it was a symbol of how U.S. intelligence officials "never forget" and have "extraordinary persistence."

That's a nice way of saying that it took them a really long time to carry this out.

Aside from fulfilling America's sense of vengeance and scoring some points for the Biden administration, it's not clear that the killing of Al-Zawahiri—nearly 21 years after 9/11 and 17 years after the last big Al Qaeda attack in Europe (the 2005 bombings in London that killed 52 people)—will make much of a difference for national security, or for stopping terrorism more generally.

It "doesn't necessarily have an earth-shattering impact," Michael Ware, TIME's former Middle East bureau chief, told Sky News Australia. "Because these organisations are built for loss and one of the outstanding features of their ability to wage war against us is their capability to regenerate."

Al-Zawahiri's death could even make things worse, depending on who succeeds him as the head of Al Qaeda or how the group reacts to his death.

"It is not yet clear who will succeed al-Zawahiri—a matter supporters have not yet been observed to discuss publicly," notes BBC journalist Mina Al-Lami. "His only publicly-known deputy, Sayf al-Adl, is reportedly living in Iran, possibly under movement and security restrictions, according to jihadist accounts."

"The question is with Al Qaeda's opaque hierarchy is there another succession plan in place or will this unleash some kind of factional tension as they vie to take over command and control," suggested Ware.

Al-Zawahiri was reportedly not a terribly charismatic leader, leaving the possibility that a successor who is could do much more damage, especially if they're able to unite various Al Qaeda factions and splinter groups around the world.

Today, "the group is splintered, with branches and affiliates spanning the globe from West Africa to India," notes The Washington Post. "The question remains whether those groups will focus on local conflicts or coalesce for more global ambitions."


Judge rejects "terrorism" label for January 6 defendant. Guy Reffitt, the first January 6 defendant to go to trial instead of taking a plea deal, has been sentenced to seven years in prison. Prosecutors sought to classify Reffitt's crime as terrorism and sought a 15-year sentence—much more than they have requested for other January 6 defendants. But U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich rejected this bid. "The government is asking for a sentence that is three times as long as any other defendant and the defendant did not assault an officer," said Friedrich, per Politico:

Friedrich also said she worried that Reffitt not be unduly punished for deciding to go to trial, rather than enter into a plea bargain with prosecutors.

"His decision to exercise his constitutional right to go to trial should not result in a dramatically different sentence," she said.

[Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey] Nestler also noted that Reffitt was convicted of having a handgun on his hip while on the Capitol grounds, which Friedrich conceded was an important distinction from the other cases to reach sentencing thus far.

"Huge, huge … and does the firearm deserve three times the sentence if it was not brandished or used in any way?" the judge asked. She later called Reffitt's decision to take what he said was a loaded handgun to the Capitol grounds "by far the most aggravating factor" in what he did.


More than 40 U.S. abortion clinics have closed since the Supreme Court's June decision overturning Roe v. Wade. New research from the Guttmacher Institute counted at least 43 clinic closures, largely concentrated in the South and the Midwest.

"As of July 24, 30 days after the fall of Roe, 11 states—all in the South and Midwest—had either banned abortion completely (Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas) or implemented a ban on abortion starting at six weeks of pregnancy (Georgia, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee)," notes the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization focused on reproductive freedom. "Prior to the Supreme Court decision on June 24, these 11 states had a total of 71 clinics that provided abortion care. As of July 24, there were only 28 clinics still offering abortions, all located in the four states with six-week bans. Across these 11 states, the number of clinics offering abortions dropped by 43 in just one month."


FTC staff recommended against latest lawsuit against Facebook. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last week filed a lawsuit to stop Facebook parent company Meta from buying Within Unlimited, the company behind virtual reality fitness app Supernatural. But "according to three people with knowledge of the decision," FTC staff recommended against doing so, reports Bloomberg. FTC chair Lina Khan and fellow Democrats in FTC leadership clearly did not take this advice.

"Agency leadership has been reluctant in the past to counter a recommendation from staff lawyers and economists, whose job it is to provide a technical assessment of whether proposed deals are anticompetitive and whether the agency has the elements to build a winning case," notes Bloomberg. But Khan has made it something of a personal mission to thwart Meta and other big tech companies.


• The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has poured $435,000 into ads promoting conspiracy theorist GOP candidate John Gibbs in his Michigan Republican primary race against for a seat in Congress.

• Alabama prisons are very picky about their dress codes for those witnessing executions.

• Did we really want former President Donald Trump to deploy the National Guard on January 6?

• "All the big ideas for 'fixing' social media are bad," suggests Bonnie Kristian at The Daily Beast.

• Score another one for genetically modified crops: A new type of genetically engineered rice needs less fertilizer to make more food.

• Trump endorsed a candidate in the Missouri Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat. It's just not clear which candidate: