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U.S. Drone Takes Out Ayman Al-Zawahiri In Afghanistan; China: "Egregious Political Impact" If Nancy Pelosi Visits Taiwan; Injured Ukrainian Soldier Says He Wants To Rejoin Fight; Sudan Military Leaders Launch Manhunt For Sources In CNN Investigation. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired August 02, 2022 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching see the NEWSROOM. Ahead this hour, hiding in plain sight, the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks and leader of al Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri is dead, killed by two U.S. missiles which targeted his home in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan.

Nancy Pelosi's not so mystery tour of Asia, the Speaker of the U.S. House expected to arrive in Taiwan soon to the outrage from Beijing soon after that.

And the first shipment of Ukrainian grain has left the port of Odessa, a glimmer of hope for a world facing a food crisis. But many warn there is still so much which could go wrong.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with John Vause.

VAUSE: It could be where the al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed and not just his death alone, that will ultimately be of much greater consequence.

Over the weekend, after months of surveillance and planning, U.S. intelligence was able to say with certainty that Zawahiri was standing on the balcony of his safe home in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, on the order of the U.S. president, a drone fired two modified Hellfire missiles, hitting the balcony and killing Zawahiri.

One U.S. official confirms Taliban leaders knew where Zawahiri he was living with his family, and after the strike tried to hide the evidence.

Al-Zawahiri was considered the ideologue of al Qaeda, deputy to Osama bin Laden, and when he was killed by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs in 2011, Zawahiri became leader.

He was described as the mastermind for the 9/11 terror attacks, before that, he was heavily involved in the planning of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. President Joe Biden was first briefed on Zawahiri's location in April,

and then spent months with cabinet members and advisors planning the strike.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will make it clear again tonight, that 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.


VAUSE: The U.S. was able to gather detailed intelligence on Zawahiri's location and daily routine, despite a total withdrawal from Afghanistan almost a year ago.

For more now on the planning and preparations for this targeted killing, here's CNN's Alex Marquardt, reporting in from Washington.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The U.S. operation that killed Ayman al-Zawahiri was months in the making, the White House says. Going back to before April when President Joe Biden was first briefed on Zawahiri living in a safe house in the Afghan capital Kabul.

He was living there with his wife, his daughter and his grandchildren, the administration says and while Zawahiri never left the house, the family was tracked and patterns were established.

Now, the women used terrorist tradecraft to avoid being tracked, a senior administration official said. And senior Taliban leaders were actually aware of Zawahiri living in that house in Kabul.

Now, Zawahiri himself would often go out onto the balcony of that house, and that's where he was killed early Sunday morning Kabul time by a drone that fired two Hellfire missiles.

The White House says they are confident that only the al Qaeda leader himself was killed, not his family members and top White House officials said that President Joe Biden repeatedly asked during the planning process, how other casualties would be avoided.

In fact, a model of Zawahiri's house was even built and then brought to the Situation Room at the White House for Biden to inspect as the strength of the building was being assessed and discussed.

Then on July 25th when President Biden was still recovering from COVID, he held a final briefing with his national security team and gave the green light.

The strike took place five days later, and it took out a man with a $25 million bounty on his head. This strike now being held up as an example by the White House of so called over the horizon capabilities to kill arguably the most elusive terrorist in the world, despite not having American military and intelligence assets on the ground following last year's withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.


VAUSE: Well, now joining me is CNN intelligence and Security Analyst and former CIA operative, Bob Baer. Bob, it's good to see you.


VAUSE: They said there's one headline or a version of it, which seems to sum up Zawahiri's time as leader of al Qaeda. Here it is from the Hill, who is Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri?


Well, there's a clue there in the headline. When the guy took over from bin Laden, al Qaeda was already in decline, but on his watch, al Qaeda became like what? The sears department store of the terrorist world, once dominating to almost being irrelevant. So, what will be the direct impact now that he's dead?

BAER: Well, I mean, he was -- he was a cold blooded murderer. He'd been killing people for years, even at Luxor killing tourists. He was the true mastermind between -- behind 9/11. He was trying to reassemble al Qaeda. He was being hemmed in by Pakistan. He was in the tribal areas, no doubt.

But what John should worry us is the Taliban led him in Kabul, they knew he was there. Clearly, you can't move around Kabul as a foreigner, and the Taliban did not know.

So, apparently, John, the Taliban have not learned their lesson. You know, go ahead.

VAUSE: Sorry, that's the important point here is that and that raises a few points, like this one from General Mark Hertling, who tweeted, I remember quite a few people, mostly those who know little about U.S. capabilities, who said last August, the U.S. would not be able to conduct over the horizon operations. Looks like they and Zawahiri were wrong.

I guess, on one side, that's the positive side of this. On the negative side of it, as you were saying, this is now the Taliban being very much aware that Zawahiri was there, despite commitments that they made in the Doha agreements that they would end links with terror groups like al Qaeda.

BAER: Yes, well, this is done clearly with technology. I've tried to collect against Afghanistan for years and the intelligence out of there is so unreliable. But on the other hand, when you have satellites and cell phone intercepts, and you can -- you can actually measure somebody's height if they stand on a -- on a balcony and see their face. And there's a signature, so we can still control Afghanistan. But keep in mind, John, Afghanistan is coming apart right before our

eyes, there's no central control, there's flood, cholera. And the Taliban, even in the south in Kandahar is being attacked by unknown parties.

So, we're going to see a lot more chaos. And the only thing we can do now, is what we did was Zawahiri, and that is use satellites and cell phone intercepts, and sort of hold these guys back.

VAUSE: So, given the fact that Afghanistan is an approaching failed state status, and what does that mean for terror groups around the world? Do they need someplace to go?

BAER: Well, the Islamic State is going to set up there, no doubt about it. Another question is, can they travel out through Iran or Tajikistan or Pakistan. I would imagine those countries are on full alert, watching Afghanistan circle a drain.

So, we're just going to have to wait and see. But the fact that al Qaeda has not attacked us in so long is the good news from this story and killing Zawahiri there's no doubt about it, it was much more dangerous, more conniving and evil than even bin Laden.

VAUSE: And he was also seen as the ideologues in the group, and a few years before 9/11, he came up with this edict to kill Americans and their allies, the civilian and military is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in every country in which it is possible to do it.

That was all in the effort to overthrow pro-Western Arab regimes. Is that essentially the driving force or ideology behind the terror groups since?

BAER: Well, just anti-colonialism at the base of it, and they've organized around Islam, and they would like to overthrow governments like the Saudi government, even the Pakistani government. And they think that if they could create a caliphate in the Middle East, that all the problems would go away.

But you know, as we know, the Islamic State, they was absolutely crushed. And I think this is what's happening with al Qaeda and our role in it is very important.

VAUSE: Well, killing Zawahiri also sends that message that all those who seek to do harm to U.S. and its allies will ultimately never be safe, they will be found.

But there is also this reaction from the survivors of 9/11. In order to achieve full accountability for the murder of the thousands on September 11th, 2001. President Biden must also hold responsible the Saudi paymasters who bankrolled the attacks, finances are not being targeted by drones. They're being met with fist pumps and hosted at golf clubs.

You know, it's one thing to fire a Hellfire missile from a drone. It's another thing altogether to confront the royal -- Saudi royal family. In fact, the U.S. government has done the complete opposite of that, it's been actively covering up the role the Saudis played in 9/11.

BAER: They have, former President Trump said we have not gotten to the bottom of 9/11. We don't know who put those 15 Saudis on the airplanes. He's absolutely right. The Saudis have not leveled with us. Nobody's indicted. Nobody's gone to jail. And there is the master mind, somebody who finances and Saudi Arabia who's still gone free.

VAUSE: Bob, thank you. Bob Baer there for us, that was some good intelligence and some good insight. Thanks, Bob.


BAER: Thank you.

VAUSE: U.S. and Taiwanese officials say House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to visit Taiwan during her visit to Asia, which began Monday in Singapore.

If she does make that stop, it will be the first such visit by a U.S. House Speaker in 25 years. But Biden administration officials stress it would not mark a shift in U.S. foreign policy.

China meantime as issuing warning saying a Pelosi visit to the self- governing island will have an "egregious political impact".

CNN's Blake Essig, joins us live from Tokyo with the very latest. So, this is happening. I guess we now just have to sit back and wait and see what the reaction will be.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, John, that seems to be the case. There's been speculation for weeks with the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan during her tour of Taiwan.

According to officials in both the Taiwanese and U.S. governments, we know that at this point, the answer is yes, she is going to visit Taiwan. Of course, all plans are subject to change. And it's worth noting that not only is Taiwan still not on Pelosi's travel itinerary, but her office has now issued multiple statements about her trip with no mention of Taiwan while details of her visit are still unclear, and no timeline was given for when she might arrive.

Senior Taiwanese officials believe that she is coming and expect her to stay overnight when she does. As you might expect, news of Pelosi's potential visit to Taiwan isn't being received well in Beijing.

Previously, Beijing had vowed to respond and some Chinese analysts have even suggested that that response could involve the military just a few hours ago.

China's ambassador to the United Nations called Pelosi's apparent visit dangerous and provocative and earlier on Monday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson warned against the egregious and political impact of Pelosi's plan visit and said this.


We would like to sternly warn the U.S. once again that China is standing by and the People's Liberation Army will never sit idly by. China will take resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

As for what measures, if she dares to go, then let's wait and see.


ESSIG: On a video also posted online Monday, the People's Liberation Army sent out a not so subtle message. The video shows off the PLA's weaponry and fighting tactics while saying that it's standing by and ready for the fighting command and that it will bury incoming enemies.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the escalating tensions earlier today as well, take a listen.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: If the speaker does decide to visit, and China tries to create some kind of crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing.


ESSIG: And multiple sources say President Biden has also made it known that he doesn't think it's a good idea for the speaker to visit Taiwan but doesn't believe it's his place to tell her she shouldn't go.

That being said, with Pelosi expected to make the trip, U.S. official said that the Defense Department is closely monitoring Chinese movements in the region and working to secure a plan to keep Pelosi safe.

John, experts tells CNN that the military operation to get Pelosi to Taiwan would likely include ships or land based assets with high powered radars to provide a protective bubble around her airplane that could potentially warn of any potential threats, John.

VAUSE: Blake, thank you, we'll keep an eye on what's happening with Pelosi's trip. You'll be arriving in Taiwan at some point. Thank you for being with us, reporting in from Tokyo.

Joining us now is CNN contributor Frida Ghitis, a columnist for the Washington Post as well as World Politics Review. Welcome to the show.


VAUSE: Hi, so with Pelosi unlikely to cancel or delay her visit to Taiwan, China's warnings about countermeasures and defending sovereign territory are growing louder.

And on Monday, Chinese media posted an announcement from the Maritime Safety Administration about military exercises in the South China Sea starting Tuesday until Saturday. Interesting timing. So, what will these measures actually look like that China could do as

a way of protesting Pelosi's visit?

GHITIS: Oh, we're likely to see more military exercises. It's a dangerous situation because they could -- exercises can very easily go through accidents as things will get too close for comfort.

Hopefully, we're not going to see any major disasters, but the tensions undoubtedly are being raised, the risks are greater. And the other -- the other side of this is that this tension does not bode well for cooperation between Washington and Beijing on the -- on the areas that where they do share some common interests.

So, I think this visit, which as far as we know is going to happen, just complicates what is already a very full plate in foreign policy for President Joe Biden and his administration.


VAUSE: Yes, and initially, that's the sort of -- sort of asking policy not to go or, you know, pointing out all the risks since the White House has now embraced. (INAUDIBLE) saying of course the speaker has every right to visit Taiwan.

And the spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council John Kirby says if the Pelosi trip does go ahead as it sounds like it will, the U.S. will ensure her safety and security and he had this message for Beijing.


JOHN KIRBY, PRESS SECRETARY, PENTAGON: There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long standing U.S. policy into some sort of crisis or conflict, or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait.


VAUSE: It seems that last part is precisely what Beijing might be looking for, especially with President Xi in the midst of a massive political power grab.

GHITIS: Yes, and you know, the timing of this visit, it's not just the timing of the exercises that is interesting. The timing of the -- of the reaction to this visit is very interesting, because Pelosi was supposed to go to Taiwan back in April, and then she came down with COVID. So, she postponed the trip.

Now this trip is coming just two or three months before a major Congress of the -- of the Communist Party of China where Xi is expected to be basically crowned for a third term, an unprecedented third term as leader of the party, as leader of the country.

And you know, Xi wants this to be really a coronation. Xi wants this to be a moment where nobody can dispute his prowess and his toughness. And this visit is in a way challenging that because Taiwan is such a centerpiece of Chinese -- of Chinese aspirations of what the rest of us would call foreign policy and what they call a domestic policy.

VAUSE: Tom Friedman of The New York Times, he writes that the Pelosi Taiwan trip is utterly reckless and dangerous, from which no good will come. Here's part of his column.

Taiwan will not be more secure and more prosperous as a result of this purely symbolic visit, a lot of bad things could happen. These include a Chinese military response that could result in the U.S. being plunged into indirect conflicts with a nuclear-armed Russia and a nuclear-armed China at the same time.

And he goes on to your point about how this will complicate the relations right now with Russia and with the ongoing war in Ukraine.

And well, you have both sides now, you have Beijing and Washington both backed into a corner unable to back down or unwilling to back down because of domestic issues. I guess if there is a way out of this, would that be for Taiwan to step in and say, Speaker Pelosi, thank you, but maybe don't come at this particular point in time.

GHITIS: The timing is complicated. And, you know, Taiwan could ask Pelosi not to come. One thing that I had suggested, and I think it's a bit late for that. But I have suggested that that Pelosi should announce that she is going to Taiwan, that she is definitely going to do it but not right now. I think it may be a little bit late for that, because now it would look like she's caving.

Taiwan might offer a way out but it really doesn't look like this thing is going to -- is going to change directions right now. We're hearing that Tuesday night is when Pelosi will be there.

And you know, the one -- the one positive sign that we can see here is that nobody wants a war right now. I think Xi wouldn't mind a little scuffle that makes him look tough. But Xi doesn't want a war. So, that may be what prevents things from really spinning out of control.

But there's always a risk. And I think we will see. We're already seeing an increase in tensions. And we will see some probably some dramatic moves. But this hopefully will pass without anything really major.

VAUSE: Yes, there's always that law of unintended consequences regardless of what everybody wants. I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens.

But Frida, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate your time.

GHITIS: My pleasure.

VAUSE: A glimmer of hope amid a global food shortage, a dangerous journey for the first shipment of Ukrainian grain slowly leaving port navigating past mines for bringing hope to tens of millions facing hunger.



VAUSE: As the war grinds on in Ukraine, there is a glimmer of hope for easing the global food crisis. For the first time since Russia's invasion, a ship carrying Ukrainian grain left the port of Odessa on the Black Sea. Part of an internationally brokered deal to unlock millions of tons of food supplies that have been stuck at Ukrainian ports since the war began.

In the hours ahead, the ship is expected to anchor near Istanbul for inspection before heading to its final destination in Lebanon, and Kyiv.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the news but with cautious optimism.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): As of now, it is too early to make any conclusions and predict future events but the port has commenced working, export movement has started and this can be called the first positive sign that there is a chance to stop the development of the food crisis in the world.


VAUSE: If the voyage goes smoothly, Ukraine says another 16 ships are waiting to depart fully loaded with grain.

The fighting in Ukraine continues with officials saying Ukrainian troops are holding off Russian advances in the eastern Donetsk region, part of Moscow is pushed to seize the wider Donbas. But those efforts could become more difficult with Ukrainian counter attacks. Forcing Russia to shift focuses -- focus rather to the south.

Ukraine says Russia is sending more forces to bolster its southern flank. At least some of those troops are coming from the Donbas region.

The brutality of this war has not stopped Ukrainians for signing up to join the fight. CNN's Jason Carroll spoke to one soldier sidelined by a severe battle wound who was still determined to return to the front. A warning, some of the images in Jason's report are graphic.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Yuriy Hudymenko (PH) is just out of the hospital after doctor who spent more than a month tending to his injuries.

This is his shrapnel from the leg.


CARROLL: An unwelcome souvenir of war. Another piece embedded in his chest. His leg shattered so badly, these rods now hold it together. This video showing the moments after Hudymenko was injured and rescued in June by fellow soldiers who were fighting alongside him on Ukraine's eastern front. An area where Ukrainians have managed in places to hold back the Russian advance. Hudymenko was laying a mind when he was hit by Russian mortar fire. Doctors initially thought his leg needed to be amputated, but they saved it and his life.

YURIY HUDYMENKO, INJURED UKRAINIAN FIGHTER: I feel the pain. But I feel also an angry and my angry is more bigger than as a pain.

CARROLL: Patriotism, sense of duty, anger. There are a range of reasons for what continues to motivate Ukrainians to join the military. But anger is one reason this new soldier will soon be deployed to the Eastern front and gave up his job as a personal trainer to join the fight. Soldiers asked that we not show their faces to protect their security.

Do you have any worries about going there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, but my hate is much more than any worries.

CARROLL: He says he did not tell his family he joined the military.

Do you think that's going to work?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They will be worried less for some time.

CARROLL: Family, not an issue for this young soldier who says his father is already fighting for Ukraine. And he says his decision to join was not about emotion.


But Yuri Hudymenko says it is hard for him not to give into his emotions. He says as soon as he's well enough, he would like to go back to the front line despite his wife's objections.

She says no woman in the world wants her man to go fight but respects his desire. One Hudymenko says is also personal.

HUDYMENKO: Now I have a personal motivation too because I need to revenge for this. I want to get all the enemies of my country and kill them. Kill them all.

CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN, Kyiv.


VAUSE: NATO peacekeepers are monitoring removal of vehicles and heavy machinery which has been blocking a number of border crossings near Kosovo northern border into Serbia. Three blocks were placed at the border in protest of Kosovo's decision to force local Serbians to obtain Kosovo I.D.s and license plates, because they've declared independence from Serbia more than a decade ago. But Serbia has not recognized Kosovo's independence. More than 100 other countries have. Sudan's military authorities have launched a manhunt for those

suspected of providing information to CNN for our investigation that expose Russia's plundering of gold in the African nation.

CNN sources say the relatives are also threatened into silence suspected leakers. It comes as Sudanese protesters call for a return to civilian rule and prosecution of Sudan's military rulers for corruption.

We have more now from CNN's Nima Elbagir.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The ramifications in the aftermath of our CNN investigation into the exploitation of Sudan's gold by Russia with the complicity of Sudan's generals continue.

While of course, the pro-democracy movement has been incredibly active in Sudan and activists have taken risks week after week on Sudan streets calling for a return to civilian rule.

There seem to be from what sources on the ground are telling us renewed vigor in protests that were called in the aftermath of our investigation, specifically called activists say the revolutionary committees organizing the demonstrations say, to demonstrate against the military rulers, and what they called their corruption calling for a prosecution for rulers.

We're also incredibly concerned to have heard from many of our sources on the ground, that those suspected of having spoken to CNN of having contributed to our investigation are now being targeted.

One source says that this is proof that the generals are scared and they say that they will persevere, continuing to call for change, and also continuing to call for accountability.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.


VAUSE: One note, CNN has repeatedly reached out to Sudan's military rulers, but we're yet to receive any response.

Coming up, a major win in the war on terror as the U.S. takes out the leader of the current leader of al Qaeda. What made Ayman al-Zawahiri the most wanted man in the world?


VAUSE: Welcome back, everyone. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.


And we're following a major story out of Afghanistan, where a U.S. drone strike has killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. This all happened Sunday morning, local time, at a safe house in Kabul.

A U.S. official says Taliban leaders knew al-Zawahiri was living in the area and even tried to hide his presence after the strike. The al- Qaeda leader was behind a number of terrorist attacks, including 9/11.

CNN's M.J. Lee is at the White House with much more now on the story.


M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A significant announcement from President Biden on Monday night that a U.S. airstrike in Kabul, on Saturday, had taken out al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Al-Zawahiri, of course, became the leader of al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden's death more than ten years ago and is seen as one of the masterminds of the September 11th attack here in the U.S.

Now, what we are told is that earlier this year, U.S. intelligence had gathered that he was in a safe house in Kabul, and that U.S. intelligence officials had spent months gathering information about his whereabouts, about his pattern of life, and have kept President Biden informed as he ultimately last week made the final decision to go ahead with this air strike.

Now, the president indicating, in a speech to the nation, that this is something that will, hopefully, give a little bit of closure to the families of victims of the September 11th attacks. He said, in his remarks to the nation, that justice has been delivered.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, justice has been delivered. And this terrorist leader is no more. People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer. The United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm.

LEE: Now, this news, of course, comes about a year after the United States pulled out all of its forces from Afghanistan, a process that, ultimately, ended up being chaotic, and it ended up, also, being bloody.

At the time, the president himself said that the U.S. was going to continue fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, but that it doesn't have to be a ground war. He said at the time that it could be via over-the- horizon capabilities. Now, we saw the president speak behind the podium, outside, at the Blue Room balcony. This, of course, is because the president is continuing to isolate after a rebound case of COVID.

There's no question this is going to go down as one of the most significant moments of President Biden's presidency so far.

M.J. Lee, CNN, the White House.


VAUSE: And from senior U.S. lawmakers, there is welcoming of the drone strike killing Ayman al-Zawahiri. Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted, "With the president's decisive action, taking this terrorist leader off the battlefield, the American people, and the world, are now safer. As President Biden said, to all those who seek to do us harm, we can and we will find you and deliver justice."

In a statement, Democrat and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says, "This is a major accomplishment by President Biden to bring to justice one of the world's most wanted terrorists, who helped orchestrate the cold-blooded murder of thousands of my fellow New Yorkers on 9/11."

And on the Republican side, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted, "The world is a better, safer place without the al-Qaeda terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri. I am profoundly grateful to the intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who spent decades hunting this terrorist killer."

Al-Zawahiri was leader of al-Qaeda for 11 years, taking over from Osama bin Laden after he was killed by U.S. SEAL. And long before he was bin Laden's deputy, al-Zawahiri had already made a name for himself as a jihadist in Egypt.

CNN's Michael Holmes has more on al-Zawahiri's rise to the very top of the world's most wanted list.


AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI, FORMER LEADER OF AL QAEDA: We want to speak to the whole world. Who are we? Who are we?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: By the time Ayman al- Zawahiri burst on the world scene after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, he was already a terrorist, committed to turning Egypt into a fundamentalist, Islamic state.

The young doctor came from one of Egypt's leading families. There was even an al-Zawahiri Street in Cairo, named after his grandfather. His uncle described him as pious.

MAHFOUZ AZZAM, AYAN AL-ZAWAHIRI's UNCLE: He was known as a good Muslim, and who is keen to pray in the mosque and the mosque and to read and to sing and to have his own decisions.

HOLMES: Al-Zawahiri spent three years in prison after Sadat's assassination. After he got out, he made his way to Pakistan where he used his medical skills to treat those fighting the Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan. That's where he met Osama bin Laden, and they found a common cause. He talked about it a decade later.

AL-ZAWAHIRI: We are working presently -- since more than 10 years, we have brought him here in Afghanistan, Sudan, and many other places.

HOLMES: Al-Zawahiri was many places in the early 1990s. Even, it's believed, visiting California on a false passport. His group attacked Egyptian embassies and try to kill Egyptian politicians. Eventually, al-Zawahiri folded his group into al Qaeda. SAJJAN GOHEL, ASIA-PACIFIC FOUNDATION: Al-Zawahiri pretty much led the

group. He did the strategic policy of with al-Qaeda's agenda was, and suddenly bin Laden gave his authority and blessings to it, but al- Zawahiri called the shots.

HOLMES: Al-Zawahiri was at bin Laden's side when he declared war on America in May 1990, 1998.

Weeks later they launched an attack on U.S. embassies in Africa, and then gloated after they escaped the U.S. cruise missile attack launched in retaliation.

After the 9/11 attacks, al-Zawahiri began to become the voice of al- Qaeda, taunting the U.S..

AL-ZAWAHIRI (through translator): American people, you must ask yourselves, why all this hate against America?

HOLMES: After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, bin Laden and al- Zawahiri were on the run, sometimes together, more often apart.

His wife and daughters were killed in a U.S. airstrike aimed at him. But he continued to issue messages on subjects ranging from the war in Iraq to the London subway attacks in 2005.

And while he was always the likely choice to succeed Osama bin Laden, it took the organization several weeks to announce his promotion.

JOHN BRENNAN, THEN-U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Al-Zawahiri is not charismatic. He has not been -- he was not involved in the fight earlier on in Afghanistan. So I think he has a lot of detractors within the organization, and I think you're going to see them start eating themselves from within more and more.

HOLMES: Without bin Laden, al-Qaeda can never be the same.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: An idea personified by Osama bin Laden. He was charismatic figure. To join al-Qaeda, you saw -- you pledged a personal oath to him. People went and died, not for Ayman al-Zawahiri, or Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, but for Osama bin Laden.

HOLMES: Terror experts say that, to jihadists worldwide, al-Qaeda still has great appeal as an inspiration. And while al-Zawahiri was an obvious successor to bin Laden, it's not at all clear who would succeed al-Zawahiri.


VAUSE: Thanks to Michael Holmes for that report. We'll take a short break.

When we come back, searching for survivors as flood waters continue to rise in Kentucky. Details in a moment.


VAUSE: Welcome back. Wildfires have burned more than a million and a half acres this year across the United States. In California, the McKinney Fire is going to be the state's biggest

wildfire of the year. And, it's turned deadly.

Two bodies found inside of a vehicle -- a burned vehicle, rather, on a residential driveway.

Thunderstorms and lightning have complicated efforts to contain this blaze, while an historic drought in the western state. Manmade climate change is making the annual wildfires more frequent and more severe.

At least 37 people have now died from flash flooding in the U.S. state of Kentucky. Floodwaters began rising last week, continuing through the weekend and are expected to keep rising overnight.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher has more on the continuing rescue efforts.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): Certainly, the deadliest and the most devastating, of my lifetime.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kentucky's governor confirming Monday at least 37 people are dead in the floods striking commonwealth including four siblings from Knott County, the youngest just 2 years old.

CHIEF PRESTON HAYS, HINDMAN VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT: Just knowing those people, it's heartbreaking. This is -- this is our community. It's our town. It's our home.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): This, as the desperate search for hundreds of missing people continue with the looming threat of more rain.

BESHEAR: There are hundreds of unaccounted-for people, minimum. And, we just -- we just don't have a firm grasp on that.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Floodwaters knocked out vital power, washed away roads and bridges, and overwhelmed Eastern Kentucky communities, making some rescue efforts nearly impossible.

HAYS The water came so quick that the fire department started getting calls for water rescue and cell phone communications. Emergency radio contact, communications radio went down.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Randy Polly shot this video, showing someone jumping into action to save an elderly woman and her family.

RANDY POLLY, WITNESSED FLOOD RESCUE: He was in there for, like, two minutes in what seemed like an eternity. Then he came back out. He said, "I finally found them."

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Another rescue, a 17-year-old saved herself and her dog by swimming to a neighbor's roof when flash flooding started last Thursday.

Her dad writing on Facebook, "We lost everything today. Everything except what matters most."

Emergency shelters are opening across Eastern Kentucky, including Gospel Lake (ph) Baptist Church in Hazzard. Nicole Neace is staying here with her family.

NICOLE NEACE, FLOOD VICTIM: I woke up at 4:50. I heard a loud noise and when I got ready, I got my flashlight and I looked at the window and it was already halfway up our living room window.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): She tells us they got out with only the clothing on their backs.

NEACE: There's nothing left. Everything's destroyed.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Neace's sister, Karen Daughtry (ph) says this isn't the first tragedy for her family.

KAREN DAUGHTRY (PH), FLOOD VICTIM: Two years ago, we lost everything to a fire. And we were just now getting back on our feet.

I mean, it's just devastating that we have to go through it again, so soon.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Diane Gallagher, CNN, Hindman, Kentucky.


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