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Who was Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda chief and Osama bin Laden successor



People knew him as al-Qaeda’s No. 2 chief, the bespectacled, bushy-bearded deputy to Osama bin Laden. However in actuality, it was Ayman al-Zawahiri’s brains and blood-drenched palms that guided the world’s most infamous terrorist motion.

Zawahiri, 71, was killed in a CIA drone strike in Kabul over the weekend, based on officers aware of the matter who spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate delicate intelligence.

Zawahiri had led his personal militant group and pioneered a model of terrorism that prized spectacular assaults and the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians. When he formally merged his group with al-Qaeda within the Nineteen Nineties, he introduced alongside these ways in addition to an expanded imaginative and prescient for attacking the West.

U.S. drone strike kills al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri

It was Zawahiri who postulated that defeating the “far enemy” — the USA — was a necessary precursor to taking up al-Qaeda’s “close to enemy,” the pro-Western Arab regimes that stood in the best way of the group’s dream of uniting all Muslims below a worldwide caliphate.

“To kill People and their allies — civilian and navy — is a person obligation for each Muslim who can do it in each nation during which it’s doable to do it,” Zawahiri wrote in a 1998 manifesto. Three years later, he would put phrases into motion by serving to to plan the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults on the World Commerce Middle and the Pentagon.

Although missing bin Laden’s private charisma, Zawahiri grew to become the mental drive behind lots of al-Qaeda’s grandest ambitions, together with its apparently unsuccessful efforts to accumulate nuclear and organic weapons. And, after the group’s compelled retreat from its base in Afghanistan in early 2002, it was largely Zawahiri who led al-Qaeda’s resurgence within the lawless tribal area throughout the border in Pakistan, based on longtime observers of the terrorist group.

In his later years, Zawahiri presided over al-Qaeda at a time of decline, with many of the group’s founding figures lifeless or in hiding and the group’s management position challenged by aggressive upstarts such because the Islamic State.

He remained the terrorist group’s figurehead however failed to forestall the splintering of the Islamist motion in Syria and different battle zones after 2011. Rumored to be in in poor health well being, he grew to become identified for his lengthy disappearances from public view, interrupted often by the discharge of essays, books and videotaped sermons that showcased a characteristically dry, pedantic type that appeared ill-suited for the age of social media.

“Zawahiri is the ideologue of al-Qaeda, a person of thought relatively than a person of motion,” Bruce Riedel, a former CIA counterterrorism professional and adviser to 4 U.S. presidents, mentioned in a September interview. “His writings are ponderous and generally unbelievably boring.”

Because the second decade after 9/11 neared its finish, Zawahiri’s potential to form occasions or exert management inside the broadly scattered jihadist motion seemed more and more unsure, Riedel mentioned. “He’s not the charismatic determine that al-Qaeda wants,” he mentioned, “and I don’t see anybody else on the horizon who could be.”

Zawahiri’s path to turning into one of many world’s most acknowledged terrorists had an unlikely starting in an upper-middle-class, religiously numerous Cairo suburb that was residence to lots of Egypt’s most completed households.

Zawahiri’s father, Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, was a professor of pharmacology, and his maternal grandfather was a president of Cairo College. On the time of Zawahiri’s delivery on June 19, 1951, his hometown of Maadi had a big Jewish inhabitants and boasted extra church buildings than mosques.

An earnest, academically gifted youth, he was influenced early in life by considered one of his uncles, Mahfouz Azzam, an impassioned critic of Egypt’s secularist authorities, and by the writings of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian writer and mental who grew to become one of many founders of Twentieth-century Islamist extremism.

In accordance with an account by Lawrence Wright in his Pulitzer Prize-winning ebook “The Looming Tower,” it was the execution of Qutb by Egypt’s authorities in 1966 that impressed Zawahiri, then 15, to arrange a bunch of younger associates into an underground cell dedicated to the overthrow of Egypt’s authorities and the institution of an Islamic theocracy. Zawahiri’s small band of followers finally grew into a corporation generally known as Jamaat al-Jihad, or the Jihad Group.

At the same time as his political beliefs hardened, Zawahiri was pursuing a profession within the therapeutic arts, incomes a level in medication from Cairo College and serving briefly as a military surgeon. He finally opened a observe in a duplex owned by his dad and mom, and he often tended sufferers at a Cairo clinic sponsored by the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist political opposition group. He married Azza Nowair, the daughter of a rich, politically related Egyptian household, and the couple finally would have a son and 5 daughters.

Whereas working on the Muslim Brotherhood clinic, Zawahiri was invited to make the primary of quite a few visits to refugee camps alongside the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. There, he patched up the injuries of mujahideen who have been combating the Soviets in Afghanistan and crossed paths with a charismatic younger Saudi, bin Laden.

On the time, nonetheless, Zawahiri was preoccupied with managing his personal revolutionary motion. His Jihad Group initiated a sequence of plots within the early Eighties to assassinate Egyptian leaders and performed a job within the slaying of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on Oct. 6, 1981.

The huge authorities crackdown that adopted landed Zawahiri in jail, together with a whole lot of his followers. Zawahiri was launched after serving a three-year sentence, however he would later declare in a memoir that he was tortured throughout his imprisonment, an expertise that he mentioned left him extra decided to destroy Egypt’s authorities by means of drive.

Throughout his nomadic years after jail, Zawahiri traveled steadily to South Asia and more and more discovered frequent trigger with the mujahideen and with bin Laden himself, who got here to depend on the Egyptian as his private doctor. The Saudi suffered from low blood strain and different power illnesses and required frequent glucose infusions. Zawahiri’s steadiness in rendering support within the face of Soviet bombardment in Afghanistan cemented the physician’s fame among the many mujahideen, in addition to a lifelong friendship with bin Laden.

Zawahiri made not less than one go to to the USA within the Nineteen Nineties, a short tour of California mosques below an assumed title to lift cash for Muslim charities offering assist for Afghan refugees. On the similar time, he continued to press his Egyptian followers towards bigger and extra spectacular assaults at residence, believing that such shockingly brutal ways would command media consideration and drown out more-moderate voices that advocated negotiation and compromise.

Whereas residing in Afghanistan in 1997, Zawahiri helped plan a savage assault on overseas vacationers at Egypt’s well-known Luxor ruins, a 45-minute killing rampage that claimed the lives of 62 folks, together with Japanese vacationers, a 5-year-old British woman and 4 Egyptian tour guides.

Strange Egyptians have been repelled by the slaughter, and assist for Zawahiri and his Jihad Group evaporated. Quickly afterward, Zawahiri instructed followers that operations in Egypt have been now not doable and that the battle was shifting to Israel and its chief ally, the USA. The Jihad Group formally merged with bin Laden’s bigger and better-financed al-Qaeda, or “The Base.”

Zawahiri was a senior adviser to bin Laden on the time of al-Qaeda’s first high-profile terrorist assaults, the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies within the capitals of Kenya and Tanzania that killed a whole lot of individuals. Three years later, working from al-Qaeda’s base in Afghanistan, he helped oversee the planning of what would develop into considered one of historical past’s most audacious terrorist assaults: the Sept. 11 strikes in New York and Washington.

Because the Sept. 11 hijackers have been dispatched to start coaching in U.S. cities, Zawahiri was put answerable for planning follow-on waves of terrorist assaults supposed to additional weaken America’s financial system and resolve. He launched an formidable organic weapons program, establishing a laboratory in Afghanistan and dispatching disciples to seek for sympathetic scientists in addition to deadly strains of anthrax micro organism.

U.S. intelligence officers consider that Zawahiri’s efforts may nicely have succeeded, had he not run out of time. Inside weeks of the collapse of New York’s World Commerce Middle towers, a U.S.-backed navy marketing campaign drove al-Qaeda’s Taliban allies out of energy in Afghanistan and compelled Zawahiri to desert his bioweapons lab.

U.S. bomber plane focused al-Qaeda leaders’ workplaces and houses, together with the compound the place Zawahiri lived. His spouse was trapped in rubble after the roof collapsed, however she reportedly refused to be rescued out of concern that males would see her with out her veil. She was later discovered lifeless of hypothermia.

Zawahiri fled with bin Laden to Pakistan’s tribal area, the place each males — now with bounties of $25 million on their heads — went into hiding to keep away from seize. Although there have been no confirmed sightings of both man within the following decade, the CIA launched not less than two missile strikes inside Pakistan, in 2006 and 2008, that reportedly focused buildings lately occupied by the Egyptian.

Regardless of the extraordinary manhunt, Zawahiri continued to make common appearances in movies posted on al-Qaeda-friendly web sites. U.S. officers consider he additionally continued to direct quite a few terrorist operations, together with the 2007 siege of the Crimson Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan, that resulted in additional than 100 deaths.

Although he often sparred with youthful extremists over ways — he argued that mass killings of Muslims in Iraq had undermined assist for al-Qaeda — he by no means publicly wavered in his hatred for the West or his assist for violent jihad.

“The complete world is our area towards the targets of the Zionist Campaign,” he mentioned in a February 2009 video. “And it isn’t for the enemy to impose on us the sector, place, time and manner during which we battle.”

The demise of bin Laden in Might 2o11 thrust Zawahiri into the No. 1 place, a job for which, in hindsight, he might not have been ideally suited. The Egyptian, along with his dry, cerebral type, did not encourage jihadists as powerfully as bin Laden or youthful leaders corresponding to Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founding father of the Iraqi insurgency that might later develop into the Islamic State.

After the beginning of the Arab Spring uprisings, Zawahiri sought to claim command over the patchwork of domestically led Islamist teams combating for dominance in Syria, Iraq and Libya. His effort would finally fail.

The main al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, identified initially because the al-Nusra Entrance, finally selected to distance itself from the dad or mum group, refusing to formally settle for the al-Qaeda model. The opposite main faction, the Islamic State, broke with Zawahiri solely and drew a public denunciation from him.

Within the decade that adopted, partisans inside each teams would duel over technique, ways and even fundamental beliefs, however hardly ever, if ever, seemed to Zawahiri for steering or decision of their disputes.

By 2020, Zawahiri had develop into more and more distant, contenting himself to write down books and essays and solely hardly ever showing on video. In September 2021, a pro-al-Qaeda web site launched a brand new video during which the ageing Zawahiri spoke for an hour and, as if to push again on rumors of his demise, made pointed references to latest information occasions.

However Zawahiri made no point out of the Twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 assaults, nor did he deal with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, only a month earlier than the video surfaced. He did, nonetheless, use the event to resurrect his fiery rhetoric from the previous, calling as soon as once more for a renewal of al-Qaeda’s violent campaigns towards enemies in every single place.

“Simply as they’ve come collectively from all corners of the world to battle us,” he mentioned within the video, “we should hit them exhausting in every single place.”

Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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