CNN has identified the house in Kabul, Afghanistan – a so-called “poppy palace” surrounded by the homes of druglords and warmongers – that was hit by a Hellfire missile drone strike that killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the early hours of Sunday morning.
The identification was made by geolocating and verifying the authenticity of three photos circulating on social media since Sunday, in addition to utilizing archival, high-resolution satellite imagery.
Zawahiri was on the balcony when the strike took place, US President Joe Biden said in a Monday evening address. CNN has reached out to the National Security Council for comment on the identification of the house but did not immediately receive a response.
The house, located in the Sherpur neighborhood of the Afghan capital, is surrounded by several houses and buildings to its north, south and west. Directly east of the house sits Omaid High School.
Just under 1,000 feet to the southeast of the house sits the United Kingdom’s embassy in Kabul. According to the British Foreign Office, all diplomatic and consular staff are “temporarily withdrawn” from the country.
A resident living close to the area, who heard a loud explosion on Sunday after 6am, told CNN that Taliban fighters continue to spread in the area. The person asked not to be identified out of fear for his life.
The strike “jolt” his own house, the resident said.
The Sherpur area of Kabul was an old military base, but during the years of civil conflict and the Taliban’s rule in the 1990s it was left almost unused. In 2003, the Afghan Defense Ministry abandoned it and the government divided it into more than 50 plots, giving them to powerful people including government ministers and other high-ranking officials, plus warlords and drug lords. Their houses soon gained the nickname “poppy palaces.”
After the fall of the Ashraf Ghani government in August 2021, the majority of the owners of Sherpur houses fled the country and their houses were confiscated by the Taliban.
It’s unclear who owns the house where Zawahiri was killed or whether it is one of those confiscated houses.
On Tuesday, a green tarp could be seen draped over the balcony area, where the missile strike appears to have occurred.
A BBC television news team, which had been filming at the house, said it was told to leave the area by the Taliban after it had shot video of the house and the area for their report.
The Taliban has continued closing streets leading to the location, a nearby resident told CNN.
Journalists attempting to gain access to the location throughout Tuesday were blocked from the main and side roads, a journalist told CNN.
Civilians on bicycles, motorcycles and cars were all also blocked from entering, the journalist said.
The house is in an area called the Green Zone, where most of the previous Afghan government officials used to live. Last year, Afghanistan’s acting Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi’s home in the area was attacked with a Taliban car bomb.
Zawahiri was sheltering in downtown Kabul to reunite with his family, Biden said, and was killed in what a senior administration official described as “a precise tailored airstrike” using two Hellfire missiles.
The strike, which took place at 9:48 pm ET on Saturday and in the early hours of Sunday morning in Kabul, was authorized by Biden following weeks of meetings with his cabinet and key advisers.
He took out the 71-year-old al Qaeda leader who at one time acted as Osama bin Laden’s personal physician, and who rose to the top of the terrorist organization after US forces killed bin Laden in 2011.
The jihadist monitoring SITE Intelligence Group said that “some segments of the jihadi community” are holding the Taliban responsible for the death of the al-Qaeda leader, believing its officials disclosed his location to US intelligence.
CNN has reached out to the Taliban for comment.
Before he gave the order to kill the terrorist leader, Biden wanted to intimately understand the vicinity in which he was hiding. Among the preparations was a small-scale model of Zawahiri’s safe house, constructed by intelligence officials and placed inside the White House Situation Room for Biden to examine as he debated his options.