|“||The Sheikh has departed, may God have mercy on him, to his God as a martyr and we must continue on his path of jihad to expel the invaders from the land of Muslims and to purify it from injustice. Today, and thanks to God, America is not facing an individual or a group, but a rebelling nation, which has awoken from its sleep in a jihadist renaissance.||„|
|~ Ayman al-Zawahiri|
Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, MB BCh (Arabic: أيمن محمد ربيع الظواهري ʾAyman Muḥammad Rabīʿ aẓ-Ẓawāhirī, June 19th, 1951 - July 31, 2022) was an Egyptian physician, Islamic theologian and leader of al-Qaeda until his death in 2022. He was previously the second and last "emir" of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, having succeeded Abbud al-Zumar in the latter role when Egyptian authorities sentenced al-Zumar to life imprisonment. His wife and three of his six children were killed in an air strike on Afghanistan by US forces in late 2001, following the September 11 attacks on the USA.
From May 2, 2011 until his death, he was the leader of al-Qaeda following the death of Osama bin Laden. This was confirmed by a press release from al-Qaeda's general command on June 16th. After the 9/11 attacks the U.S. State Department offered a US$25 million reward for information leading to al-Zawahiri's apprehension. He was under worldwide sanctions by the Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee as a member of al-Qaeda until being killed by a U.S. drone strike on July 31, 2022.
Ayman al-Zawahiri was born in 1951 in the neighborhood of Maadi, Cairo, in the then Kingdom of Egypt, to Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri and Umayma Azzam. By the age of 14, al-Zawahiri had joined the Muslim Brotherhood. The following year the Egyptian government executed Sayyid Qutb for conspiracy, and al-Zawahiri, along with four other secondary school students, helped form an "underground cell devoted to overthrowing the government and establishing an Islamist state." It was at this early age that al-Zawahiri developed a mission in life, "to put Qutb's vision into action." His cell eventually merged with others to form al-Jihad or Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
Early militant activities
In 1981, Al-Zawahiri was one of hundreds arrested following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. Initially, the plan was derailed when authorities were alerted to Al-Jihad's plan by the arrest of an operative carrying crucial information, in February 1981. President Sadat ordered the roundup of more than 1500 people, including many Al-Jihad members, but missed a cell in the military led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, who succeeded in assassinating Sadat during a military parade that October. His lawyer, Montasser el-Zayat, said that Zawahiri was tortured in prison.
In his book, Al-Zawahiri as I Knew Him, Al-Zayat maintains that under torture by the Egyptian police, following his arrest in connection with the murder of Sadat in 1981, Al-Zawahiri revealed the hiding place of Essam al-Qamari, a key member of the Maadi cell of al-Jihad, which led to Al-Qamari's "arrest and eventual execution."
In 1993, al-Zawahiri's and Egyptian Islamic Jihad's (EIJ) connection with Iran may have led to a suicide bombing in an attempt on the life of Egyptian Interior Minister Hasan al-Alfi, the man heading the effort to quash the campaign of Islamist killings in Egypt. It failed, as did an attempt to assassinate Egyptian prime minister Atef Sidqi three months later. The bombing of Sidqi's car injured 21 Egyptians and killed a schoolgirl, Shayma Abdel-Halim. It followed two years of killings by another Islamist group, al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, that had killed over 200 people. Her funeral became a public spectacle, with her coffin carried through the streets of Cairo and crowds shouting, "Terrorism is the enemy of God!" The police arrested 280 more of al-Jihad's members and executed six.
al-Zawahiri is reportedly a qualified surgeon; when his organization merged with bin Laden's al-Qaeda, he became bin Laden's personal adviser and physician. He had first met bin Laden in Jeddah in 1986. al-Zawahiri has shown a radical understanding of Islamic theology and Islamic history. He speaks Arabic, English and French. He is under worldwide sanctions by the United Nations Security Council 1267 Committee as a member or affiliate of al-Qaeda.
In 1998, al-Zawahiri formally merged the Egyptian Islamic Jihad into al-Qaeda. According to reports by a former al-Qaeda member, he has worked in the al-Qaeda organization since its inception and was a senior member of the group's shura council. He was often described as a "lieutenant" to Osama bin Laden, though bin Laden's chosen biographer has referred to him as the "real brains" of al-Qaeda.
Leader of al-Qaeda
On June 16th, 2011, al-Qaeda announced that al-Zawahiri had been selected as bin Laden's successor as al-Qaeda's former leader had been killed during the United States' raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan several months prior.
Al-Zawahiri's current whereabouts are unknown, but he is generally thought to be in tribal Pakistan. Although he releases videos of himself frequently, al-Zawahiri did not appear alongside bin Laden in any of them after 2003. In 2003, it was rumored that he was under arrest in Iran, although this was later discovered to be false. In 2004, the Pakistan Army launched an aggressive operation in Wana, Pakistan. Reports began to surface that he was trapped in the center of the conflict by the army. But when, after weeks of fighting, the army captured the area, it was later revealed that he either escaped or was never among the fighters. As the conflict spread into the tribal areas of western Pakistan, Ayman al-Zawahiri became a prime target of the ISI's Directorate for Joint Counterintelligence Bureau (J-COIN Bureau). However, despite a series of operations they were unable to capture him.
On January 13, 2006, the Central Intelligence Agency, aided by Pakistan's ISI, launched an airstrike on Damadola, a Pakistani village near the Afghan border where they believed al-Zawahiri was located. The airstrike was supposed to kill al-Zawahiri and this was reported in international news over the following days. Many victims of the airstrike were buried without being identified. Anonymous U.S. government officials claimed that some terrorists were killed and the Bajaur tribal area government confirmed that at least four terrorists were among the dead. Anti-American protests broke out around the country and the Pakistani government condemned the U.S. attack and the loss of innocent life. On January 30, a new video was released showing al-Zawahiri unhurt. The video discussed the airstrike, but did not reveal if al-Zawahiri was present in the village at that time.
On August 1, 2008, CBS News reported that it had obtained a copy of an intercepted letter dated July 29, 2008, from unnamed sources in Pakistan, which urgently requested a doctor to treat al-Zawahiri. The letter indicated that al-Zawahiri was critically injured in a US missile strike at Azam Warsak village in South Waziristan on July 28 that also reportedly killed al Qaeda explosives expert Abu Khabab al-Masri. Taliban Mehsud spokesman Maulvi Umar told the Associated Press on August 2, 2008, that the report of al-Zawahiri's injury was false.
In early September 2008, Pakistan Army claimed that they "almost" captured al-Zawahiri after getting information that he and his wife were in the Mohmand Agency, in northwest Pakistan. After raiding the area, officials didn't find him.
In June 2013, al-Zawahiri arbitrated against the merger of the Islamic State of Iraq with the Syrian-based Al-Nusra Front into The Islamic State as was declared in April by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Abu Mohammad al-Julani, leader of al-Nusra Front, affirmed the group's allegiance to al-Qaeda and al-Zawahiri.
In September 2015, Zawahiri urged Islamic State (ISIL) to stop fighting al-Nusra Front, the official al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and to unite with all other jihadists against the supposed alliance between America, Russia, Europe, Shiites and Iran, and Bashar al-Assad's Alawite regime.
Ayman al-Zawahiri released a statement supporting jihad in Xinjiang against Chinese, jihad in the Caucasus against the Russians and naming Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan as battlegrounds. Zawahiri endorsed "jihad to liberate every span of land of the Muslims that has been usurped and violated, from Kashgar to Andalusia, and from the Caucasus to Somalia and Central Africa".
Uyghurs inhabit Kashgar, the city which was mentioned by Zawahiri. In another statement he said, "My mujahideen brothers in all places and of all groups ... we face aggression from America, Europe, and Russia ... so it's up to us to stand together as one from East Turkestan to Morocco". In 2015, the Turkistan Islamic Party (East Turkistan Islamic Movement) released an image showing Al Qaeda leaders Ayman al Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden meeting with Hasan Mahsum.
Zawahiri continues to release propaganda videos, with the most recent being in June 2020 following the announcement of peace negotiations between the United States and the Taliban. In September 2021, on the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, after a month of Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, another video of al-Zawahiri surfaced, but he did not mention the Taliban takeover.
In November 2020, both Afghan and Pakistani security sources claimed that Ayman al-Zawahiri had died due to complications from asthma. This has yet to be officially confirmed. It has been speculated that Zawahiri has been in poor health for quite some time now and that he has stepped back from leading al-Qaeda.
One of the sources who spoke to Arab News was an al-Qaeda translator said to maintain close ties with the group, who said Zawahiri had died in Afghanistan.
'He died of asthma because he had no formal treatment,' the translator told the outlet's Pakistani edition.
A Pakistani security official in tribal areas near the Afghan border said 'we are firm that he has died of natural causes' following persistent rumours.
Another Pakistani source, a security officer with knowledge of anti-terror operations, said they had information that Zawahiri had died around a month ago.
On August 1, 2022, two intelligence sources confirmed that the United States killed al-Zawahiri in a drone strike as part of their counterterrorism operation that was conducted over the past weekend in Kabul under the Taliban.