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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 fingers that guided the world’s most infamous terrorist motion.

Zawahiri, 71, was killed by the USA, U.S. officers accustomed to the matter stated Aug. 1. No different particulars have been instantly made public.

Zawahiri 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 techniques in addition to an expanded imaginative and prescient for attacking the West.

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

“To kill People and their allies — civilian and army — is a person obligation for each Muslim who can do it in each nation by 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 Heart and the Pentagon.

Although missing bin Laden’s private charisma, Zawahiri turned the mental drive behind a lot of al-Qaeda’s grandest ambitions, together with its apparently unsuccessful efforts to accumulate nuclear and organic weapons. And, after the group’s pressured 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 a lot 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 stop the splintering of the Islamist motion in Syria and different battle zones after 2011. Rumored to be in ailing well being, he turned identified for his lengthy disappearances from public view, interrupted sometimes by the discharge of essays, books and videotaped sermons that showcased a characteristically dry, pedantic model that appeared ill-suited for the age of social media.

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

Because the second decade after 9/11 neared its finish, Zawahiri’s potential to form occasions or exert management throughout the extensively scattered jihadist motion regarded more and more doubtful, Riedel stated. “He isn’t the charismatic determine that al-Qaeda wants,” he stated, “and I don’t see anybody else on the horizon who can be.”

Zawahiri’s path to changing into one of many world’s most acknowledged terrorists had an unlikely starting in an upper-middle-class, religiously various Cairo suburb that was dwelling to a lot 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 beginning 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 one in every of his uncles, Mahfouz Azzam, an impassioned critic of Egypt’s secularist authorities, and by the writings of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian creator and mental who turned one of many founders of Twentieth-century Islamist extremism.

In accordance with an account by Lawrence Wright in his Pulitzer Prize-winning e-book “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 buddies 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 often known as Jamaat al-Jihad, or the Jihad Group.

Whilst his political opinions hardened, Zawahiri was pursuing a profession within the therapeutic arts, incomes a level in drugs from Cairo College and serving briefly as a military surgeon. He finally opened a apply in a duplex owned by his dad and mom, and he sometimes 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 preventing 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 Nineteen Eighties to assassinate Egyptian leaders and performed a task within the slaying of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on Oct. 6, 1981.

The large authorities crackdown that adopted landed Zawahiri in jail, together with lots of 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 stated left him extra decided to destroy Egypt’s authorities by drive.

Throughout his nomadic years after jail, Zawahiri traveled often 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 help within the face of Soviet bombardment in Afghanistan cemented the physician’s status among the many mujahideen, in addition to a lifelong friendship with bin Laden.

Zawahiri made at the least one go to to the USA within the Nineteen Nineties, a quick tour of California mosques underneath an assumed title to lift cash for Muslim charities offering help for Afghan refugees. On the identical time, he continued to press his Egyptian followers towards bigger and extra spectacular assaults at dwelling, believing that such shockingly brutal techniques would command media consideration and drown out more-moderate voices that advocated negotiation and compromise.

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

Bizarre Egyptians have been repelled by the slaughter, and help for Zawahiri and his Jihad Group evaporated. Quickly afterward, Zawahiri informed 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 lots of of individuals. Three years later, working from al-Qaeda’s base in Afghanistan, he helped oversee the planning of what would turn into one in every 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 in command of planning follow-on waves of terrorist assaults meant to additional weaken America’s financial system and resolve. He launched an bold 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 imagine that Zawahiri’s efforts would possibly effectively have succeeded, had he not run out of time. Inside weeks of the collapse of New York’s World Commerce Heart towers, a U.S.-backed army 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 at the least two missile strikes inside Pakistan, in 2006 and 2008, that reportedly focused buildings just 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 imagine he additionally continued to direct quite a few terrorist operations, together with the 2007 siege of the Pink Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan, that resulted in additional than 100 deaths.

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

“All the world is our subject in opposition to the targets of the Zionist Campaign,” he stated in a February 2009 video. “And it isn’t for the enemy to impose on us the sector, place, time and means by which we combat.”

The loss of life of bin Laden in Could 2o11 thrust Zawahiri into the No. 1 place, a task for which, in hindsight, he might not have been ideally suited. The Egyptian, together with his dry, cerebral model, did not encourage jihadists as powerfully as bin Laden or youthful leaders comparable to Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founding father of the Iraqi insurgency that might later turn into the Islamic State.

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

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

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

By 2020, Zawahiri had turn 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 by which the ageing Zawahiri spoke for an hour and, as if to push again on rumors of his loss of life, made pointed references to current information occasions.

However Zawahiri made no point out of the Twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 assaults, nor did he tackle 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 in opposition to enemies in all places.

“Simply as they’ve come collectively from all corners of the world to combat us,” he stated within the video, “we should hit them arduous in all places.”

Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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