- Join the teenage Muslim Brotherhood
- From a respectable family in Cairo
- He took control of al-Qaeda after the killing of bin Laden
- He exercises his influence as an ideological and strategic organizer
- I lack bin Laden’s charisma
DUBAI (Reuters) – Ayman al-Zawahiri succeeded Osama bin Laden in the leadership of al Qaeda after years as a key al Qaeda organizer and strategist, but his lack of charisma and competition from rival Islamic State fighters hampered his ability to launch major attacks on al Qaeda. the West.
US President Joe Biden said in a live television broadcast on Monday evening that Al-Zawahiri, 71, was killed in a US drone strike. US officials said the attack took place on Sunday in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Read more
In the years following bin Laden’s death in 2011, US airstrikes killed a succession of Zawahiri’s deputies, weakening the veteran Egyptian militant’s ability to coordinate globally.
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He had seen al-Qaeda virtually marginalized by the Arab revolutions of 2011, launched primarily by middle-class activists and intellectuals opposed to decades of authoritarianism.
Despite his reputation as an inflexible and combative figure, al-Zawahiri succeeded in nurturing loosely affiliated groups around the world that had grown to wage devastating insurgencies, some rooted in the turmoil caused by the Arab Spring. The violence has destabilized a number of countries across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
But the days of al-Qaeda as the hierarchical, centrally directed network of conspirators that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, are long gone. Instead, militancy has returned to its roots in conflicts at the local level, spurred by a combination of local grievances and incitement by transnational jihadist networks using social media.
Al-Zawahiri’s origins in Islamic militancy go back decades.
The first time the world heard of him was when he stood in a cage in a courtroom after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.
"We have sacrificed and we are still ready for more sacrifices until the victory of Islam," al-Zawahiri chanted, wearing a white abaya, while angry at Sadat’s peace agreement with Israel.
Al-Zawahiri served a three-year prison sentence for illegal weapons possession, but was acquitted of the main charges.
A trained surgeon – one of his nicknames was a doctor – al-Zawahiri went to Pakistan on his release where he worked with the Red Crescent treating wounded Islamic mujahideen in Afghanistan fighting Soviet forces.
During that time, he became acquainted with bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi who joined the Afghan resistance.
Al-Zawahiri took over the leadership of Islamic Jihad in Egypt in 1993, and was a leading figure in the mid-1990s campaign to overthrow the government and establish a purely Islamic state. More than 1,200 Egyptians were killed.
The Egyptian authorities launched a crackdown on Islamic Jihad after the attempted assassination of President Hosni Mubarak in June 1995 in Addis Ababa. Al-Zawahiri, a gray-haired man in a white turban, responded by ordering a 1995 attack on the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. Two cars packed with explosives crashed into the gates of the complex, killing 16 people.
In 1999, an Egyptian military court sentenced al-Zawahiri to death in absentia. By that time he was living the Spartan life of the militants after he helped bin Laden form Al Qaeda.
A video broadcast by Al Jazeera in 2003 showed the two men walking on a rocky mountainside – an image that Western intelligence hoped would provide clues to their whereabouts.
Global jihad threats
For years it was believed that al-Zawahiri was hiding along the forbidden border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
This year, US officials determined that al-Zawahiri’s family — his wife, daughter, and children — moved to a safe house in Kabul and identified al-Zawahiri at the same location, according to a senior administration official.
The official said he was killed in a drone attack when he emerged from the balcony of the house on Sunday morning. No one else was injured. Al-Zawahiri took over the leadership of al-Qaeda in 2011 after the US Navy killed bin Laden in his hideout in Pakistan. He has since repeatedly called for global jihad, with an Ak-47 next to him during video messages.
In a eulogy for bin Laden, al-Zawahiri vowed to continue attacks on the West, recalling the threat of the Saudi-born mujahid that "you will not dream of security until we live it on the ground and until you leave Muslim lands."
As it turned out, the emergence of the more radical Islamic State in 2014-2019 in Iraq and Syria drew as much, if not more, attention from Western counterterrorism authorities.
Al-Zawahiri often tried to stir up feelings among Muslims by commenting online on sensitive issues such as US policies in the Middle East or Israeli actions against the Palestinians, but his extradition was deemed to lack bin Laden’s appeal.
On a practical level, al-Zawahiri is believed to be involved in some of al-Qaeda’s largest operations, as he helped orchestrate the 2001 attacks, when planes hijacked by al-Qaeda were used to kill 3,000 people in the United States.
He was charged with his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The FBI put a $25 million bounty on his most wanted list.
Al-Zawahiri did not emerge from the slums of Cairo, like others who were drawn to militant groups that promised a noble cause. Born in 1951 to a prominent family in Cairo, al-Zawahiri was the grandson of the imam of al-Azhar, one of Islam’s most important mosques.
Al-Zawahiri grew up in the leafy Cairo suburb of Maadi, a place favored by expats from the Western countries he criticizes. Al-Zawahiri, the son of a pharmacology professor, first embraced Islamic fundamentalism at the age of fifteen.
His ideas were inspired by the revolutionary ideas of the Egyptian writer Sayed Qutb, an Islamist who was executed in 1966 on charges of trying to overthrow the state.
People who studied with al-Zawahiri at Cairo University’s Faculty of Medicine in the 1970s describe a lively young man who went to the movies, listened to music, and joked with friends.
"When he got out of prison he was a completely different person," said a doctor who studied with al-Zawahiri and declined to be named.
In a courtroom cage after Sadat was assassinated in a military parade, al-Zawahiri addressed the international press, saying that the militants had suffered severe torture including flogging and wild dog attacks in prison.
"They arrested wives, mothers, fathers, sisters and sons in a trial to put psychological pressure on these innocent prisoners," he said.
His fellow prisoners said that these conditions further radicalized al-Zawahiri and set him on the path of global jihad.
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Editing by Howard Guller, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Stephen Coates
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.