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Al-Qaeda Leader Killed in Kabul, Afghanistan; Drone Strike Killed Only Al-Zawahiri; Speaker Pelosi Undeterred by China's Threat; Brittney Griner Attends Another Trial; Grain Shipment on its Way to Global Markets. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired August 02, 2022 - 03:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead here on CNN Newsroom, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is dead, killed by a U.S. drone strike in the heart of Afghanistan's capital. How America finally took down Osama bin Laden's right-hand man.

The speaker of the U.S. House is expected to arrive in Taiwan soon despite China warning there will be severe consequences for her visit.

And with floodwaters rising, and more rain on the way, officials warn the worst is yet to come in eastern Kentucky.

UNKNOWN: Live from CNN center, this is CNN Newsroom with Rosemary Church.

CHURCH: President Joe Biden says justice has been delivered after Al- Qaeda's leader was killed in a U.S. drone strike. It happened early Sunday morning in Kabul Afghanistan where Ayman al-Zawahiri has been staying at a safe house.

U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken says the Taliban violated in agreement not to host or provide smelter to terrorists. Al-Zawahiri was widely considered the idealogue of Al-Qaeda, responsible for helping to plan the 9/11 terror attacks, as well as the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Here is President Biden.


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


CHURCH: More now from CNN's Alex Marquardt reporting from Washington.

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: 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 al-Zawahiri living in a safehouse 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 trapped and patterns were established. Now the women used terrorist trade trap to avoid being tracked, a senior administration official says.

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 is 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 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 greenlight. The strike took place five days later, and it took out a man with a $25 million bounty on his head.

This strike 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.

CHURCH: And CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman joins me now from Rome. And Ben has been covering Al-Qaeda and al-Zawahiri for decades now.

Good to see you, Ben. So, how was the U.S. able to pull off this targeted killing of al-Zawahiri with no troop presence on the ground but such detailed planning over many months?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think as Alex explained in that report the U.S. has been where of his presence in Kabul going back to before April. Now it's somewhat ironic that it appears that after the Taliban were able to take over Afghanistan, in particular, the capital, that perhaps Zawahiri moved to Kabul and was able to, for instance, stroll out onto his balcony. [03:05:07]

It is ironic that after a 20-year American occupation that, basically, by pulling out the United States was finally able to kill al-Zawahiri. So clearly, the intelligence was quite ample. And the United States has had plenty of time to plan this drone strike using two hellfire missiles. And it really goes to show that, perhaps, the United States would've been able to take out Al-Qaeda leaders earlier if it hadn't been in Afghanistan. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Interesting point. And Ben, what happens with Al-Qaeda, who will replace al-Zawahiri as leader? And how viable is the terrorist group going forward?

WEDEMAN: Well, how viable Al-Qaeda is going forward is a good question. In fact, the question should be how viable was Al-Qaeda even before. Basically, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 really put an end to Al-Qaeda as a really dangerous organization. It has franchises in Southeast Asia, in West Africa, but by and large it had been a crippled organization for years. It was superseded by ISIS, eclipsed by ISIS.

But fundamentally, you have to sort of, look at the big picture. If you look across the landscape of the contemporary Middle East, it is bleak. You have brutal dictatorships. You have corruption for the youth and the future. It doesn't really hold much for them. Many of them actually, according to repeated opinion polls want to leave. But those who can't leave are stuck in this hopeless situation.

So, eventually, you could find Al-Qaeda 2.0., ISIS 2.0 emerging from this landscape of hopelessness. So, in a sense, Al-Qaeda is very much a thing of the past. But the fertile landscape out of which it has grew and develop is still, unfortunately, they are very much there, Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, our thanks to Ben Wedeman joining us live from Rome. I appreciate it.

Joining me now from Nepal, Sajjan Gohel is the international security director for the Asia Pacific Foundation. Thank you so much for being with us.


CHURCH: So just how significant is this targeted killing of Al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike on the balcony of a Kabul safe house. He was clearly feeling very relaxed about going outside.

GOHEL: Absolutely, and it's significant, Rosemary, in the number of ways. You're looking at the head of Al-Qaeda, an individual that help shape the groups ideological foundations. This was a man who has been involved in terrorism since the 1970s. He partnered with Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. This is somebody who has plotted attacks against the United States in America and against western interests abroad as well. And keep in mind, that this is a man who has also survived numerous

targeted operations, drone strikes, he was known as the enduring terrorist. Because he was constantly able to keep himself safe and then Wedeman spoke about irony. One of the great ironies is that he was also able to withstand all the strikes against him. And at the same time, he was also then able to keep himself protected from all the operations.

CHURCH: Yes. And it's interesting. You mentioned what Ben was saying about the irony. Because I mean, how do you think the U.S. was able to target al-Zawahiri when, you know, it didn't have a military presence on the ground. It is extraordinary that, you know, it took them leaving for this to happen.

And you know, to take steps even to the point of making sure the structural integrity of the building, that al-Zawahiri was in, was not impacted. So, it was to reduce the likelihood of killing or injuring anyone else. So, it's really a sense that they had weeks to plan this.

GOHEL: Well, it's clear that Ayman al-Zawahiri had based himself in Pakistan for the last 20 years during the war on terrorism and was able to keep safe. Now Ben Wedeman spoke about irony. One of the great ironies is that he returned to Kabul and felt safe. That he was going to be protected by the Taliban, that they had given him sanctuary. And he wasn't in some tribal area within Afghanistan, Rosemary. He was in the capital.


He was being kept safe by, it seems, the Haqqani network which are one of the principal Taliban factions that control Afghanistan. It also means that the Taliban and the Haqqani's have been lying because they keep saying that Al-Qaeda has not returned to Afghanistan despite evidence on the contrary. U.N. monitoring report showing that Al-Qaeda is re-assembling inside Afghanistan. And it just shows that for a man who was so careful in his own protection eventually succumb to complacency and ultimately met this death.

CHURCH: It is extraordinary. And President Biden said in his address Monday night that we're all safe as a result of the killing of al- Zawahiri. But what about the possibility of retaliation for his killing? How big a threat do you think that poses?

GOHEL: While, the death of the Zawahiri creates two problems. One is that now there will potentially be a power grab within Al-Qaeda. Because one thing that Zawahiri was able to do was unite the different factions of Al-Qaeda. The affiliates stayed loyal to Ayman al- Zawahiri. And is often being criticism that Ayman al-Zawahiri doesn't have Bin Laden's charisma, that he doesn't have the same ability as Bin Laden did.

But one thing he was very effective was has an operator. He preferred to operate behind the scenes. And he was able to keep the affiliates in North Africa, in sub-Saharan Africa, in the Middle East together. Now, what will happen is that, will the factions want to separate. Will they want to go their own ways? And you may find that they will want to also depart from what al-

Zawahiri was trying to create, which was what he termed as safe bases. This man that allows Al-Qaeda to regrow within Afghanistan, replenish their ranks, reconstitute. And it's something that he's been trying to do for a while.

My book on Ayman al-Zawahiri is due to come out soon. And as he -- having looked at him for the last 20 years, what's significant, Rosemary, is that this was a long-term plan. And he was planning for his legacy of what Al-Qaeda would do in the aftermath of his death.

So even though he may be dead, Ayman al-Zawahiri continues to live that influence for others about plotting, planning, and recruiting individuals that will still be determined to target the west in the future.

CHURCH: Sajjan Gohel joining us live from Nepal, many thanks for your analysis. I appreciate it.

GOHEL: My pleasure.

CHURCH: Well, Saudi Arabia is welcoming the killing of Al-Qaeda's leader. The country's foreign ministry released this statement saying in part, al-Zawahiri planned a terrorist operation that killed thousands of innocent people including Saudis.

Well, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now in Malaysia. Marking the second stop on her trip to Asia. Her arrival there comes as tensions flare over another possible visits. U.S. and Taiwanese officials say Pelosi is expected to travel to Taiwan, a stop that's already sparking strong rhetoric from China.


ZHANG JUN, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: As we can see what such a visit is apparently very much dangerous, very much provocative. If the U.S. insists on -- on making the visit, China will take a firm and strong measures to safeguard our national identity and territorial integrity.


CHURCH: CNN's Blake Essig joins me now from Turkey with the latest. So, Blake, what more are you learning from U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi's expected trip to Taiwan?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, there's been speculation for weeks. Will the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visit Taiwan during her tour of Asia? According to officials in both the Taiwanese and U.S. government, we now believe that the answer is yes.

Of course, all plans are subject to change. And while details of her visit are still unclear, senior Taiwanese officials believe that she is coming and expect her to stay overnight when she does. Now as you might expect, news of Pelosi's potential visit to Taiwan have left Beijing furious.

Just a few hours ago Chinese ambassador to the United Nations called Pelosi's apparent visit, dangerous and provocative. Previously, Beijing had vowed to respond and some Chinese analysts have suggested that that response could involve the military.

And on Monday, China's foreign ministry spokesperson warned against the egregious political impact of Pelosi's planned visit and said this.


ZHAO LIJIAN, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN (through translator): 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: Now, in a video, also posted online Monday the People's Liberation Army sent a not-so-subtle message. This video shows the PLA's weaponry and fighting tactics, while saying it's standing by and ready for the fighting command. And that it will bury incoming enemies. Now Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the escalating tensions. 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 a crisis, or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing.


ESSIG: Now multiple sources said that President Biden has also made it known that he doesn't think it's a good time for the speaker to visit Taiwan. But, also doesn't believe that it's his place to say that she shouldn't go. But with Pelosi expected to make the trip, U.S. officials are saying that Defense Department officials are now monitoring Chinese movement in the region and working to secure the plan to keep her safe.

As for the Taiwanese ministry of defense, regarding China's recent saber rattling, they've said they don't underestimate their enemies. But remain confident in their ability to ensure national security. And it's on top of the maritime and aerial situation around Taiwan. Rosemary?

CHURCH: All right, Blake Essig. Many thanks for your live report there. I appreciate it.

And, earlier, I spoke with CNN political analyst and Washington Post columnist, Josh Rogin, about Nancy Pelosi's expected trip and the escalating tensions between the U.S. and China.


JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's true that the Pelosi delegation is scheduled to land in Taipei Tuesday night, local time, and stay until Wednesday where they'll have a series of high-level meetings. The U.S. military has developed a plan to protect her delegation and its travel.

But the U.S. government is expecting the Chinese government to exert retaliation in two different phases. First, they'll do something while she's on the trip. Not necessarily to confront her plane. But on their side of the Taiwan's Strait. This could involve exercises, firing missiles, flying planes near Taiwan.

So, they don't expect the crisis or a confrontation while she was on the ground, but they do expect some saber-rattling from the Chinese side, the second phase when the Pelosi delegations leaves Taiwan. Then the Chinese government is expected to exert punishment on the island of Taiwan. And that come in the range of measures, including cyber, economic and military maneuvers.

And, the expectation is that the crisis won't just be for the day and a half that Nancy Pelosi and her fellow congressman are in Taiwan but could extend for weeks and months ahead.

CHURCH: So, what are the benefits of Speaker Pelosi visiting Taiwan at this time, for her, and of course for Taiwan? Does any good come of it really?

ROGIN: For her, the benefits are clear. It's a legacy item. It's a capstone in her decades long career to be active on U.S.-China relations. And the insularly benefit is that it reasserts the rights of U.S. lawmakers, any Americans really to visit Taiwan whenever they want.

The benefits for Taiwan actually are less clear. It's always good to have U.S. lawmakers to show up and show their support for Taiwan, but right now I think the feeling on the island from what I understand is that the risk outweighs those benefits.

But it's really tough for the Taiwanese government to speak up and say that of course because they need support from people like Nancy Pelosi. At the same time, it's always the weaker party that gets punished by the Chinese government. And I think, actually in the end the Taiwanese will be the one who will suffer the most. And, Nancy Pelosi will get her photo-op and then she'll be off to her next appointment.


CHURCH: Our thanks to CNN political analyst, Josh Rogin for his perspective.

Well, after months of war Ukraine is finally able to export grain. But will it be enough to ease the global food crisis. Those details just ahead.

Plus, U.S. basketball star, Brittney Griner is set to appear in court as the U.S. attempts to secure her release from a Russian prison. We are live outside the courthouse, after the break.



CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well, the trial of American basketball star Brittney Griner is set to resume soon as the U.S. attempts to negotiate a prisoner swap for her release. It is the seventh hearing for Griner since being arrested in Moscow airport for having cannabis oil in her bags. She pleaded guilty to the charge last month in hopes of getting a more lenient sentence.

CNN's senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen joins me now from outside the courthouse in Russia. Good to see you, Fred. So, what is expected to come out of Brittney Griner's hearing today?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Rosemary. And that hearing is actually getting underway as we speak right now. Brittney Griner was brought into the courtroom a couple of minutes ago here in Khimki just of Moscow. And we can really say, Rosemary, at this point of time that the trial is going into a very decisive and probably its end face as well.

What we had last Wednesday is Brittney Griner took the stand, as you've already mentioned she, once again said that she took responsibility for accidentally, as you put it, bringing those cartridges, those vaping cartridges that contain oil with her as she tried to get into Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. But it was not something that she did on purpose and she was very sorry about it.

So, therefore, trying to get some leniency from the court. What's going to happen today is that there's going to be more witnesses that are going to be called by the defense. Obviously, they're trying to bring in more experts to say exactly what Brittney Griner was caring, also somewhat to call into question the way that her case was handled. When she was detained at Sheremetyevo airport, of course her lawyers are saying after the last hearing that he believes that there were certain things that were handled improperly by the authorities there.

It's unclear how many more trial dates there are going to be. But we do notice that this trial really is going into that end phase where a verdict could happen very soon. Of course, there are still going to be closing arguments by the defense that are going to happen on a different trial.

We've already heard there's not going to be a verdict today but, again, a very important phase right now. And at the same time of course you have looming over all of this, that talk of a possible prisoner exchange involving Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan, the former marine who of course is in jail here in Russia for a 16-year sentence for allege espionage, which he denies. And then Viktor Bout from the Russian side, the convicted arms dealer

who's serving a sentence in the U.S. It's unclear whether all of that has any influence here on the court. Certainly, on the face of it, it doesn't. Well, we have also managed to speak to Brittney Griner's legal team on that as well, and they have absolutely no knowledge of any sort of top of a prisoner exchange, but they also said that there is, one they would welcome that, and the hope that Brittney Griner can get home to her family as fast as possible, Rosemary?

CHURCH: Yes, absolutely. We'll continue to follow this critical story of course. Fred Pleitgen joining us there, many thanks.

In Ukraine, a glimmer of hope that the global food crisis can be eased despite the ongoing war. On Monday, for the first time since Russia's invasion, a ship carrying Ukrainian grain left Odessa. It's part of a deal to unblock 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. In Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the news with cautious optimism.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): We cannot have the illusions that Russia would simply refrain from trying to disrupt Ukrainian exports. As of now, it is too early to make any conclusions and predict future events.


But the port has commence working. Export movement has started. And this can be called the first positive sign that there's a chance to stop the development of the food crisis in the world.


CHURCH: Meantime, on the ground, intense fighting for Ukraine's south and east rages on. Ukraine says its troops are still fending off Russians advances in the eastern Donetsk region, a key target in Moscow's push to seize the wider Donbas. But despite heavy shelling along much of the front lines, Russian troops don't appear to be making much headway.

At the same time, Ukraine has been stepping out counter-attacks in southern regions like Kherson, forcing Russia to spread its troops even thinner. There are even reports that some Russian forces are being moved away from the eastern front line so they can protect Russian positions in the south.

And, CNN is covering the story from every angle. Our Clare Sebastian is in London tracking the latest developments from Russia. But first, we want to come to CNN's Nada Bashir, who joins us live from Istanbul.

Good to see you, Nada. So, what is the latest on that first grain shipment heading now to Istanbul, and ultimately to Lebanon. Where is it exactly now?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well, look, we've been tracking the Razoni ship as it makes its way through that very carefully identified safe corridor through the Black Sea. According to marine tracking web site, it's currently just off the coast of Romania on the Black Sea. And, there has been a little bit of a delay compared to what was expected. And that's because of weather conditions according to Turkish officials.

It is expected to arrive in Turkish waters around Istanbul later this evening. And crucially, what many leaders will be waiting to see is that inspection that is due to take place tomorrow morning local time here in Istanbul.

And that inspection will be carried out by officials from the Joint Coordination Centre, which was established and opened here in Istanbul last week. And it will include representatives from both Russia and Ukraine to oversee the inspection of this vessel with monitoring from both Turkish officials and the United Nations.

Crucially, looking at and ensuring that this vessel is carrying the agriculture goods that have been permitted under the framework of the agreement signed with Turkey and the United Nations between Russia and Ukraine. Now, there are a lot of eyes waiting to see whether this will be a successful initiative. There is a lot of pressure on this near framework to be a success.

We have heard cautious optimism from world leaders including, as you mentioned there, President Zelenskyy, although he did also caution that trust between Russia and Ukraine remain low. We did of course see that attack on the port of Odessa by Russian forces just a day after the deal was signed here in Istanbul a little over a week ago.

But there is a cautious optimism still that this deal can prove successful, that this initiative will work. Once it passes through that inspection here in a stumble, it will carry on its journey to Tripoli in Lebanon. It is carrying around 26,000 tons of grain. That is a small fraction of near 20 million tons of grain currently believe to be stuck in solos at Ukraine's southern Black Sea ports.

But it will come as a welcome development for those in Lebanon, where they rely so heavily on Ukrainian grain imports, and whether there's a shortage there. We have seen frustration over the last few days over that shortage, and of course, this will go some way to alleviating the pressure of the global food crisis.

For now, though, we are hearing optimism from Turkish officials, from the U.N. that this deal will prove successful, giving commercial shipping companies, really, the confidence to send more vessels from Ukraine's ports carrying those grain exports.

So, there is real hope still. This is a critical moment. And a real test to see if this initiative brokered after weeks of negotiations with Russia, with Ukraine within Turkey and the United Nations can actually prove successful in practice. Rosemary? CHURCH: Yes, let's hope the smooth sailing there. And Clare, what

more are you learning about military developments on the ground in Ukraine and, of course, Russian strategy there?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Rosemary, there is clearly still two fronts that Russia is fighting on in the east. We see, as you said, intense shelling along the front lines. Russia about a month after it claimed victory over the Luhansk region, one part of the Donbas that is now its stated objective in Ukraine, it's still struggling to try to take control of Donetsk, intense shelling continues to be highly artillery war.

Ukraine says it's been able to repel the Russian advance in that area in some locations. So, it's continuing to fight back with everything it's got.


And then to the south, Ukrainian officials, the adviser to the mayor of Mariupol says that they had observed, this was said on Monday, Russian equipment movements to the west to the region of Zaporizhzhia that that could suggest, they say that Russia is redeploying some of its firepower to the south. Ukrainian officials have suggested this means Russia is sort of on the back foot in that region.

But I think a measure of just how grinding this conflict continues to be is that we saw yet another American military aid package agreed on Monday. The, U.S. sending another $550 million worth of really just ammunition this time to Ukraine, ammunition for both artillery and for the new heavy artillery long-range HIMARS weapons that were recently provided to Ukraine.

It shows that they are burning through ammunition on the battlefield as they continue to fight this intense war, and now on two fronts, Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Clare Sebastian in London, Nada Bashir in Istanbul, many thanks to you both for those updates. I appreciate it.

Just ahead here on CNN Newsroom, a drone strike has taken out the leader of Al-Qaeda. Why the U.S. says, Ayman al-Zawahiri had to be getting help from the Taliban.

And later, reeling from flash floods. Kentucky residents tried to move forward despite still rising waters. We will have the latest on the recovery efforts.


CHURCH: We are following a major story out of Afghanistan where a U.S. drone strike has killed Al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. It 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 try to hide his presence. The Al-Qaeda leader was widely considered to be behind a number of terrorist attacks, including 9/11. Well, U.S. President Joe Biden was first briefed on intelligence that

al-Zawahiri was in Kabul back in April. A U.S. official says he studied a scale model of the safe house and insisted the military avoid any civilian casualties.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: After (Inaudible) seeking Zawahiri for years under President Bush, Obama, and Trump, our intelligence community located Zawahiri earlier this year. He had moved to downtown Kabul to reunite with members of his immediate family.

After carefully considering a clear and convincing evidence of his location, I authorize a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield once and for all. This mission was carefully planned. Rigorously minimize the risk of harm to other civilians.


And one week ago, after being advised that the conditions were optimal, I gave the final approval to go get him. And the mission was a success. None of his family members were hurt. There were no civilian casualties.

I'm sharing this news with the American people now after confirming the mission was a total success through the painstaking work of our counterterrorism community and key allies and partners.


CHURCH: And we are getting reaction from U.S. lawmakers on the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri. The Senate's top Democrat Chuck Schumer issued a statement congratulating the president. It reads in part, hats off to President Biden for this decisive action that brings final justice to a loathsome mass murderer. America has taken Ayman al- Zawahiri, the ruthless leader of Al-Qaeda, and a perpetrator behind the 9/11 attacks off the battlefield.

His Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell tweeted this. 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.

House Republican Adam Kinzinger is an Afghan war veteran and serves on the foreign affairs committee and he had this reaction, speaking to CNN's Wolf Blitzer.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): If you imagine kind of a fighter on the ropes this was a massive blow and knock that fighter down. That's what happens when you lose your spiritual leader. We know that's what happened when Osama bin Laden died. A, we got a lot of intel from that, but also was a gut punch to Al-Qaeda. But that doesn't mean they're done.

They will be somebody to come and replace him. He may have already had a successor he was grooming. And their desire to kill us simply because of who we are has not changed.


CHURCH: Al-Zawahiri became the leader of Al-Qaeda after the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden 11 years ago. But before he was Bin Laden's deputy, he had already made a name for himself as a Jihadist in Egypt.

CNN's Michael Holmes has more on his rise to becoming the world's most wanted terrorist.


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

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By the time 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, AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI'S UNCLE: He was known as a good Muslim, who was keen to pray at time in 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 in 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 (Inaudible) since more than 10 years, we have brought him here in Afghanistan, and brought him here 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 tried to kill Egyptian politicians. Eventually, al-Zawahiri folded his group into Al-Qaeda.

SAJJAN GOHEL, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY DIRECTOR, ASIA PACIFIC FOUNDATION: Al-Zawahiri pretty much led the group he did the strategic policy of what 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 of 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, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: 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 could never be the same.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: The idea personified by Osama bin Laden. He was this charismatic figure to join Al-Qaeda, you saw, you pledge to personal oath to him. People went and died, not for Ayman al-Zawahiri or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, 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.


CHURCH: Well, it now seems to be a question of when, not if, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will travel to Taiwan. She arrived in Malaysia earlier, her second stop on an Asia trip. U.S. and Taiwan officials say Pelosi is also expected to visit the island, a move that's sparking strong reaction from China.

CNN's Selina Wang has more now from Beijing.

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Destroyers opened fire. Missiles launch. War ships shoot into the city. It is a show of force ahead of China's military anniversary, training for war in the east China and Yellow Seas. Soldiers also recently run drills around Pingtan Island, China's closest point to Taiwan, just over 77 miles away. Renewing fears of a cross-strait crisis triggered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's possible trip to the island. She's already in Asia and released an itinerary with no mention of Taiwan. But Taiwanese and U.S. officials have told CNN, she is expected to visit Taiwan this week and stay overnight. In a call with President Joe Biden last week, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, those who play with fire will perish by it. A prominent hawkish voice in China even suggested that if U.S. fighter jets escort Pelosi's plane into Taiwan, Chinese military should forcibly dispel Pelosi's plane. If ineffective, then shoot them down. The tweet has now been banned.

He doesn't represent the official government stance, but state media has been promoting his threat. It's not just that Pelosi would be the most powerful U.S. official to visit in 25 years, but Beijing also sees her as a hostile figure. She's been a staunch critic of China for decades.

In 1991, two years after China's military brutally cracked down on student protesters around Tiananmen Square, Pelosi traveled there and held a banner that read, "to those who died for democracy in China."

U.S. President Joe Biden has raised concerns over Pelosi's trip.

BIDEN: The military thinks it's not a good idea right now.

WANG: This Chinese state media video says Pelosi is only going to Taiwan to boost her political career. And that America's fragmented government cannot agree on what to do about Taiwan. Neither side can afford to look weak. If Pelosi doesn't go, it could look like the U.S. is caving to China's bullying. Whereas Xi Jinping is just months away from a key political meeting where he's expected to seek an unprecedented third term.

SUSAN SHIRK, PROFESSOR, 21ST CENTURY CHINA CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF California, SAN DIEGO: Given the overreaching that Xi Jinping has been doing, I don't believe we can count on his good judgment.

WANG: For now, he's keeping the world guessing, as to whether or not the threats are just bluffing. Or if Beijing is actually ready for crisis that could escalate into a war that no one wants.

Selina Wang, CNN, Beijing.


CHURCH: And still to come, after burning to 55,000 acres California's biggest wildfire had turned deadly. We will explain why this fire and others are so difficult to put out.



CHURCH: Nearly 40 people have now died from flash floods in the U.S. state of Kentucky. Efforts to find the missing have been hindered by the rain. Floodwaters began rising last week, continued through the weekend and were expected to keep rising overnight.

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


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

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kentucky governor confirming today at least 37 people are dead in the flood-stricken commonwealth including four siblings from Knott County. The youngest, just two years old.

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

GALLAGHER: This, as the desperate search for hundreds of missing people continues with the looming threat of more rain.

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

GALLAGHER: 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 rescues. And cell phone communications, emergency radio communications went down.

GALLAGHER: 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 but it seemed like an eternity. Then came back out and said I finally found them.

GALLAGHER: 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 Light Baptist Church in Hazard. Nicole Neace is staying here with their family.

NICOLE NEACE, FLOOD VICTIM: I woke up at 4.50, I heard a loud noise. And when it ready I got my flashlight. And I looked out the window and it was already halfway apart living our window.

GALLAGHER: She tells us they got out with only the clothing on their backs.

NEACE: There is nothing left. Everything is destroyed.

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

UNKNOWN: Two years ago, we had 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 again so soon.

GALLAGHER: The (Inaudible) have fears this flooding wise. We've seen houses that were lifted off of their foundation. The force of the water actually took this firetruck here and pinned it underneath this bridge. We're seeing scenes like this all over eastern Kentucky.

Look, their biggest concern, is there going to be more rain that's going to cause additional flooding? Now look, they want to see if there are those hundreds of people that are out of communication right now. Bringing the comms up in the area if that will help reunite them. But talking to rescuers here in Hindman, they acknowledged that oftentimes no longer rescue missions and instead, they've since become recovery.

Dianne Gallagher, CNN, Hindman, Kentucky.


CHURCH: In California, the McKinney fire is now the state's biggest wildfire of the year. It's burned more than 55,000 acres and it's turned deadly with two bodies found inside a burned vehicle on a residential driveway. Thunderstorms and lightning have complicated efforts to contain the blaze.


Our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri is at the CNN weather center covering all of this. And Pedram deadly wildfires and floods. A tragic story of extremes. What are you seeing in the way of the forecast?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, we're just analyzing this in the last two minutes. Meteorologist Robert Shackelford here in CNN weather center looking at the latest models coming in from this region of Kentucky as it relates to the floods.

Because we know that the forecast was initially showing some decent rainfall, heavy rainfall potentially right over this particular region and the changes for the better across the area as well. Kind of showing exactly how things are playing out here.

Robert, if we can advance the elements and we'll show you exactly what is playing out. Because the forecast guidance on this has really a changed a little bit and reduce the rainfall amounts. And we know quite a bit has come down here.

In fact, upwards of 400, 500 millimeters has come down at a span of just a couple of days. So, any amount of rainfall, say, 20, 30, 40 millimeters is going to lead to significant flooding. And the weather service in the area has issued flood alerts as a result for this because of that risk that the water levels have already elevated so much the soil is saturated as well.

You'll notice, thunderstorms are in this region. The Pikeville area across eastern Kentucky is the area of concern right there. But notice, storms to the north, storms off towards the west, and quite a bit of activity in this region. In fact, tornado in West Virginia the lone tornado in the United States occurred just a few kilometers east of this region.

So, again, it speaks to the inclement set up. But notice, a marginal risk in place, that's a level one on the scale of one to four right there for the state of Kentucky. It's completely eliminated come Wednesday. So, we do know we are headed in the right direction as it relates to whether. And initially, the models have suggested some very heavy rainfall possibly early this morning in eastern Kentucky.

But as you can kind of saw this play out, not much develops here, so that's great news with this latest model run reducing the risk for the heavy rainfall in this region. Again, some rain could come down. It could be on the lighter end we think. So generally, less than 25 millimeters.

Anytime we have such saturated soil the water tables are already so high that additional rainfall can be problematic. Now, when it comes to heat, we've talk about the drought, we've talk about the fire situation, the Central United States of temperatures into the 40 Celsius, 109 Fahrenheit. But it feels like, with excessive heat and also fire weather risk across this region as well.

But a couple of days ago, this was pretty expensive across the northwestern area of the U.S. Now it's scattered in nature. Here's what's happening. The McKinney Fire, about the 55,000 acres, 130,000 hectares consumed. Containment still sits at zero.

But what's improving with this regard is the fire coverage had been explosive in growth, from Saturday into Sunday going from 18,000 to 51,000 acres and notice topping out of 55,000 again around 130,000 hectares. But this is quite a down, a slowdown quite a bit in its expansion. And that's in large part because of some unusual rain showers, especially from where it's headed from.

Moisture coming in from the south towards the north, not something you see very often this time of year, but certainly very, very beneficial for the firefighting efforts. The cloud covers have increased, the moisture content has increased. So, the fire in its expansion has decreased as a result which is not something you see too often in August, Rosemary. So, we are very happy to see that here in CNN weather center.

CHURCH: All right, that is good. Pedram Javaheri, many thanks as always.

And still to come, retribution in Sudan. The country's military rulers go on the hunt for those who told CNN how Russia is plundering the African nation's gold.



CHURCH: Well, there is outrage in Italy over the killing of a Nigerian man in broad daylight as onlookers did nothing. The 39-year- old street vendor was chased and fatally attacked last Friday. And the alleged assailant apparently also stole the victim's mobile phone. A bystander captured the incident on a video, but nobody is seen intervening. The victim's widow says she wants justice.


CHARITY ORIACHI, VICTIM'S WIFE: I need justice. Italy should help me. I need justice for my husband. That is what I want. I need justice because it's too much. The pain is too much.

UNKNOWN: Not to revenge.

ORIACHI: The pain is too much for me. I need justice.


CHURCH: A local police officer told CNN the killing was not racially motivated. A 32-year-old Italian man has been arrested for murder and robbery. One of his lawyers told CNN his client has psychiatric issues and they intend to file a psychiatric report.

Well, Sudan's military authorities want to know who spoke to CNN for our investigation of how Russia is plundering the nation's gold. They have launched a manhunt for these suspected sources and relatives have even been threatened.

It comes as protestors call for a return to civilian rule and prosecution of the military rulers.

CNN's Nima Elbagir is following all the developments.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: 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.

CHURCH: And CNN has repeatedly reached out to Sudan's military rulers but has not received a response.

Well, thank so much for spending part of your day with me. I'm Rosemary Church. CNN Newsroom continues next with Max Foster. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)