Ayman al-Zawahri, the Egyptian-born surgeon-turned-jihadist who assumed the management of Al Qaeda after the killing of Osama bin Laden and who died at 71 in a drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, over the weekend, in line with U.S. officers, led a life steeped in secrecy, betrayal, conspiracy and violence, most murderously within the Sept. 11 assaults towards the United States in 2001.
While Bin Laden, who was killed by an American raid in 2011, was extensively seen because the terrorist mastermind of these assaults, many counterterrorism consultants thought-about Mr. al-Zawahri extra accountable.
With his white turban and dense, grey beard, his brow marked by the bruising prized by some Muslims as denoting piety from frequent prayer, Mr. al-Zawahri had little of Bin Laden’s charisma and none of his entry to fabled household wealth. But he was extensively depicted because the mental backbone of Al Qaeda — its chief working officer, its public relations government, and a profound affect who helped the Saudi-born Bin Laden develop from a charismatic preacher into a lethal terrorist with world attain.
In an interview in May 2011 with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a analysis group, Tawfik Hamid, a former Islamist militant who now research the topic, stated that of the 2 males, Mr. al-Zawahri was a extra influential chief. “When you listen to him, you can tell clearly that he has the ambition and is dedicated 100 percent to achieve this mission,” Mr. Hamid stated.
During his management of Al Qaeda, the group’s world affect waned because the Islamic State rose. But the group remained a menace, with associates in a number of nations finishing up assaults. And Mr. al-Zawahri, to whom all of them swore allegiance, was nonetheless one of the world’s most-wanted terrorists at his dying.
From his teenage years in an upscale suburb of Cairo, Mr. al-Zawahri led a cat-and-mouse existence, serving jail phrases in Egypt and Russia and hunted by adversaries, together with U.S. counterterrorism authorities, who positioned a $25 million bounty on his head.
Yet he appeared at all times to remain one step forward, hiding out within the craggy redoubts of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Over time, his goals and ideology advanced from a visceral hatred of secular rule in Egypt, the place he was amongst these tried for conspiracy within the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, to a virulent marketing campaign to strike at the so-called “far enemy,” the United States, Al Qaeda’s goal of desire.
The group’s tactical power lay in its potential to launch spectacular assaults, beginning with the simultaneous assaults on the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 and the suicide bombing of the American destroyer Cole in Yemen in 2000, and culminating within the assaults on New York and Washington in 2001 that led to the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
In the next decade, American counterterrorism authorities pursued Bin Laden and Mr. al-Zawahri, his deputy and chosen successor. Drone strikes decimated Al Qaeda’s management in a sustained effort to degrade the group and avenge the Sept. 11 assaults. On at least one event, Mr. al-Zawahri was stated to have died, solely to resurface within the sporadic video and audiotapes that unfold his message.
In May 2011, a Navy SEAL workforce killed Bin Laden in a raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. For a greater than a month, Al Qaeda was silent on its future management.
Then Mr. al-Zawahri put out a 28-minute video of himself. With a rifle within the background and making a chopping movement together with his hand, he promised that Bin Laden would proceed to “terrify” America after his dying.
“Blood for blood,” he stated.
A Rising Competitor
By that point, a newer technology of jihadists had grown, first within the chaos of Iraq after the American invasion, and then spreading to Syria after civil conflict broke on the market in 2011.
In the following mayhem, the Islamic State rose to prominence as a new beacon of jihadist zeal, attracting tens of 1000’s of followers with its media-savvy, internet-age messages, its slick movies of beheadings and its seize of large swaths of territory wherein it declared a new caliphate for the world’s Muslims.
Shorn of its iconic chief, Al Qaeda, against this, had been pressured to desert its centralized command construction whereas its associates, significantly in Yemen and Syria, pledged allegiance to Mr. al-Zawahri in a sharpening and bloody feud with the Islamic State, which, paradoxically, had begun as an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Both teams had been rooted in Sunni Muslim extremism. But the distinctions between them had been legion. While the Islamic State sought hegemony amongst jihadist teams and thirsted for territorial enlargement, Al Qaeda’s associates confirmed rising readiness to cooperate with different teams and little urge for food for occupation.
Mr. al-Zawahri castigated the Islamic State and its leaders for his or her observe of killing Shiite Muslim civilians, fearing that such killings would taint the jihadist trigger amongst Muslims. And whereas Islamic State disciples strengthened the group’s popularity for brutality by way of movies of the decapitations of Western hostages and different acts of savagery, Mr. al-Zawahri opposed such shows, apparently to keep away from alienating potential supporters.
Sajjan M. Gohel, a specialist in worldwide terrorism based mostly in London, wrote that Mr. al-Zawahri was joyful to let the Islamic State face assaults by U.S.-backed coalition forces in Iraq and Syria, giving Al Qaeda the house to “reconstitute its infrastructure and networks across the Islamic world” and revive its long-term purpose of putting targets within the West.
In 2015, Mr. al-Zawahri performed what he calculated could be a successful card in his group’s revival, introducing to followers Hamza bin Laden, a son of the Al Qaeda founder, and describing him in an audio recording as a “lion from Al Qaeda’s den.” In the printed, Hamza bin Laden exhorted jihadists to hold out “the highest number of attacks” on Western cities. A 12 months later, in a message aimed at America titled “We are all Osama,” Hamza bin Laden issued a private enchantment to avenge his father.
“Yours will be a harsh reckoning,” he stated. “We are a nation that does not rest over injustice.”
Hamza bin Laden had been amongst a group of Bin Laden family members who took refuge in Iran after the Sept. 11 assaults, held below home arrest preparations of various severity. Some analysts believed that he was not more than a figurehead whose utterances had been supposed to lure youthful jihadists from the Islamic State.
According to Mr. Gohel, Hamza bin Laden had at least two wives, together with a daughter of Mr. al-Zawahri’s who bore two kids, linking the 2 households in a “strategic marriage alliance.”
Hamza bin Laden was killed in a counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan someday in 2017 or 2018, American officers stated.
Mr. al-Zawahri’s deputies had been additionally picked off. Abu al-Khayr al-Masri was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Syria in 2017. A successor, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who glided by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was killed by Israeli operatives in Tehran in 2020.
In 2021, practically 20 years after the United States invaded Afghanistan to drive Al Qaeda out, the Taliban retook management of the nation and gave its ally, Al Qaeda, secure haven. Mr. al-Zawahri duly returned.
A Prominent Family
Ayman Muhammad Rabie al-Zawahri, one of 5 kids, was born on June 19, 1951, in Maadi, a Cairo suburb. His father was a pharmacology professor whose uncle had been grand imam of Al Azhar, a 1,000-year-old college that’s a middle of Islamic studying.
His mom’s father was president of Cairo University, founder and director of King Saud University in Riyadh and an envoy to Saudi Arabia and different nations. Another of her family members was the primary secretary normal of the Arab League.
Despite its prominence, the household displayed little evident prosperity and by no means owned a automobile till Ayman was grown. Lawrence Wright, in his guide “The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” (2006), stated that the al-Zawahris’ reclusive, conservative, even backward methods prompted them to be perceived as “hicks.”
Mr. al-Zawahri was a sensible pupil when he was not daydreaming and opposed contact sports activities as inhumane. He started studying Islamist literature at an early age. One huge affect was Sayyid Qutb, an Islamic thinker who noticed the world diametrically divided between believers and infidels. (He included average Muslims among the many infidels.) Qutb was imprisoned and tortured in Egypt and hanged there in 1966.
“In al-Zawahri’s eyes, Sayyid Qutb’s words struck young Muslims more deeply than those of his contemporaries because his words eventually led to his execution,” Montasser al-Zayyat, an Islamic radical and lawyer, wrote in “The Road to Al Qaeda: The Story of Bin Laden’s Right-Hand Man” (2004).
Another affect was the humiliating defeat the Arab nations suffered at the palms of Israel in 1967. It turned many younger folks away from the Pan-Arab socialism pursued by President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and towards anti-Western varieties of Islam.
In 1966, Mr. al-Zawahri helped kind an underground militant cell devoted to changing Egypt’s secular authorities with an Islamic one. He was 15.
At first there have been 5 members. By 1974 there have been 40. Mr. al-Zawahri stored his involvement secret from even his household whereas he attended medical faculty at Cairo University. He graduated in 1974, served three years within the military and earned a grasp’s diploma in surgical procedure in 1978.
Through his and her households, Mr. al-Zawahri met Azza Nowair, who, Mr. Wright wrote, got here from a well-off background. He urged that in one other time she might need been a skilled or a socialite. But she had change into deeply non secular, wore a veil and spent complete nights studying the Quran.
When they had been married in 1979, Mr. al-Zawahri had seen her face precisely as soon as. At the ceremony, there have been males’s and girls’s sections. At the bride’s request, there was no music or images.
In October 2001, quickly after the assaults on America, Azza al-Zawahri and at least one of their kids had been killed by bombardments in Afghanistan. Wounded, she had refused to be pulled from the rubble, information accounts of the bombardment stated, for worry that rescuers would see her face — an offense towards Islamic modesty. Published stories have stated that they’d 4 daughters and a son.
Mr. al-Zawahri was working in a clinic in Egypt in 1980 when he seized a possibility to go to Peshawar, Pakistan, for the Red Crescent, the Muslim correlate of the Red Cross, to deal with refugees fleeing Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion. He visited Afghanistan and acknowledged it as a good place to launch a jihad, returning many occasions.
When he was arrested in 1981 for conspiring to homicide Mr. Sadat, he was slapped by the chief of police. Mr. al-Zawahri slapped him again.
At his trial, together with tons of of others, he was convicted solely of gun possession. But because the trial proceeded for practically three years, he was repeatedly tortured in jail. Under interrogation, he revealed the title, actions and whereabouts of one of his collaborators, a soldier, which led to the person’s arrest.
In an interview with The New Yorker in 2002, Mr. Zayyat, the lawyer for a lot of Islamist activists, urged that the guilt Mr. al-Zawahri felt over this betrayal was a main motive for his leaving Egypt after he was launched in 1984.
His journey took him to Saudi Arabia and then, in 1986, again to Peshawar, the place Bin Laden generally lectured at the hospital the place Mr. al-Zawahri labored. Mr. al-Zawahri grew to become Bin Laden’s private doctor, arrange a safety power round him and helped the Saudi start interested by particular methods to harm the Western powers and the Middle Eastern governments they supported.
“When Ayman met Bin Laden, he created a revolution inside of him,” Mr. Zayyat instructed The New Yorker. The deal was simple: Mr. al-Zawahri would provide the political acumen and an informed management cadre to show Bin Laden’s unfastened coalition, and his personal unformed impulses, into an instrument of mass homicide. Bin Laden offered cash and status.
Mr. Zayyat, who as soon as shared an Egyptian jail cell with Mr. al-Zawahri, wrote that he was satisfied that Mr. al-Zawahri was extra accountable than Bin Laden for the assaults on the United States, a view shared by many counterterrorism consultants.
Deviating From Islam
In 1998, Mr. al-Zawahri wrote a doc supposed to unite militant teams within the widespread trigger of killing Americans anyplace, not simply within the Middle East. In 2001, his group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, formally merged with Bin Laden’s Qaeda community to create Qaeda al Jihad.
Mr. al-Zawahri had the fragile job of explaining Al Qaeda’s deviation from Islamic teachings that prohibit killing harmless folks, significantly Muslims, and that bar suicide. He maintained that a martyr’s true religion reversed these prohibitions.
“According to him the majority of Muslims around the world are not Muslim,” Azzam Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London, instructed Time journal. “His ideas negate the existence of common ground with others, irrespective of religion.”
Mr. al-Zawahri grew to become acquainted to the world as the person sitting at Bin Laden’s aspect in movies, and, later, by himself.
His flip of phrase shone in his greeting to President Barack Obama in 2008: “Be aware that the dogs of Afghanistan have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious, so send thousands after thousands to them.”
But he may additionally counsel moderation, if public relations required it. In 2005, he wrote Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the chief of Al Qaeda in Iraq, that he ought to cease attacking mosques and making movies of beheadings. In 2003, he scrubbed a plan to flood New York subway tunnels with cyanide as a result of, he stated, it “was not sufficiently inspiring.”
By 1990, Islamist guerrillas, backed by Pakistan and the C.I.A., had pressured the Soviets out of Afghanistan, and the Arabs who had come to struggle the Soviets had been leaving. Sudan’s authorities invited Bin Laden there. He and Mr. al-Zawahri purchased farms in Sudan and transformed them into navy coaching bases. They additionally established camps in Yemen.
Mr. al-Zawahri organized a number of terrorist acts, together with an assassination try on the Egyptian prime minister. The bomb missed its goal, however 21 folks had been wounded and a 12-year-old schoolgirl was killed.
In November 1995, Mr. al-Zawahri dispatched suicide bombers to explode the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. After they succeeded, Egyptian intelligence blackmailed two teenage boys and used them to plant listening gadgets in properties of Islamic Jihad members. One boy was supposed to depart a suitcase full of explosives close to Mr. al-Zawahri.
But the Sudanese authorities arrested each boys. Mr. al-Zawahri persuaded the authorities to launch them in order that he may interrogate them. He then tried them for treason, convicted them and killed them, earlier than circulating a tape of their confessions.
Many Islamists turned towards Mr. al-Zawahri, and Sudan expelled him and his group. The Arab radicals returned to Afghanistan.
In 1996, Mr. al-Zawahri smuggled himself into the Russian republic of Chechnya, however was apprehended at the border and detained, in line with a memo obtained by The Wall Street Journal. The Russians did not determine him and launched him.
In 1995 and 1996, a sequence of bombings in Saudi Arabia killed Americans. In 1998, Mr. al-Zawahri commissioned a research on Jewish affect within the United States; it led to the United States’ being formally positioned on Islamic Jihad’s listing of acceptable targets. Bin Laden was so happy that he raised Islamic Jihad’s annual finances from $300,000 to $500,000.
As a outcome of the founding doc written by Mr. al-Zawahri, the International Islamic Front for Jihad on the Jews and Crusaders was fashioned in February 1998, combining the organizations of Bin Laden and Mr. al-Zawahri. Its purpose: kill Americans all over the place.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.