Dr. Ayman Muhammad Rabaie al-Zawahiri
أيمن محمد ربيع الظواهري‎
President McCain Ayman al-Zawahiri
Head of al-Qaeda
November 26, 2001 – October 28, 2007
Preceded by: Osama bin Laden
Succeeded by: Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif
Born: June 19, 1951
Maadi, Cairo, Kingdom of Egypt
Died: October 28, 2007 (age 56)
Tora Bora, Afghanistan
Nationality: Egyptian
Occupation: Medical doctor, Islamic scholar, Militant leader
Battles/wars: War on Terrorism

Dr. Ayman Muhammad Rabaie al-Zawahiri (Arabic: أيمن محمد ربيع الظواهري‎) (March 10, 1957 — October 28, 2007) was a prominent leader of al-Qaeda, and was the second and last "emir" of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, having succeeded 'Abbud al-Zummar in the latter role when Egyptian authorities sentenced al-Zummar to life imprisonment. Al-Zawahiri was a qualified surgeon, and is an author of works including numerous al-Qaeda statements. He spoke Arabic and English. Al-Zawahiri was under worldwide embargo by the UN 1267 Committee as a member or affiliate of al-Qaeda until his death in 2001.

In 1998 al-Zawahiri formally merged 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 was referred to him as the "real brains" of al-Qaeda. After the death of bin Laden on November 26, 2001 al-Zawahiri succeeded him as the leader of al-Qaeda.

On October 28, 2007 he died from massive blood loss following engagements with U.S forces in the White mountains on the Afghan-Pakistani border.


Upbringing and education

Ayman al-Zawahiri was born to a prominent upper middle class family in Maadi, Egypt, a suburb of Cairo, and was reportedly a studious youth. His father, Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, was a pharmacologist and a professor coming from a large family of doctors and scholars, while his mother, Umayma Azzam, came from a wealthy, politically active clan. He excelled in school, loved poetry, "hated violent sports" — which he thought were 'inhumane' — and had a deep affection for his mother.

His family was "religious but not overly pious," but Zawahiri became both quite pious and political, under the influence of his uncle Mahfouz Azzam, who had been a student and then lifelong follower of radical Islamist thinker Sayyid Qutb.

Qutb preached in his manifesto, Ma'alim fi al-Tariq (Milestones), that "the Muslim community has been extinct for a few centuries" having reverted to Jahiliyyah, "the state of ignorance of the guidance from God."[11] To restore Islam and free Muslims, "jahili society, jahili concepts, jahili traditions and jahili leadership," had to be eliminated, and to do this a vanguard of true Muslims modeling itself after the original Muslims, the "companions" of Muhammad had to be developed. Like the companions, this vanguard would cut themselves off from the Jahiliyyah — i.e., ignore the learning and culture of non-Muslim groups (Greeks, Romans, Persians, Christians or Jews) — and separate themselves from their old non-Muslim friends and family. It would look to the Qur'an for orders to obey, not "learning and information" or solutions to problems.

The implication of this idea for many, was that Muslim government officials, particularly those of Egypt, had become so corrupted they were no longer true Muslims. As apostates, they could be killed under Islamic law. In 1965, Qutb was accused of plotting to overthrow the state, with much of the prosecutor's evidence being taken directly from Milestones and defended by Qutb. Qutb was tried, convicted and executed. Milestones became a best seller.

By 14, al-Zawahiri had joined the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin) Islamist group. The following year the Egyptian government executed 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. At Cairo University, Al-Zawahiri studied behavior, psychology and pharmacology graduating in 1974 with Gayyid Giddan. Following that he served three years as a surgeon in the Egyptian Army after which he established a clinic near his parents. In 1978, he also earned a master's degree in surgery.

Marriage and family

In 1978 he married Azza Nowari, the daughter of an old family friend. Azza had become very religious in college, wearing a niqab, a black hijab covering all but her eyes, and sometimes spending the whole night reading the Qur'an. Their wedding was very pious, with separate areas for men and women, and no music, photographs, or light-hearted humour.[19] Many years later, when the United States attacked Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Azza denied ever knowing that Zawahiri had been a jihadi emir (commander) for the last decade, although at least one acquaintance is skeptical of her ignorance of this fact.

The couple had four daughters, Fatima (b. 1981), Umayma, Nabila (b. 1986) and Khadiga (b. 1987), and a son Mohammed, who was a "delicate, well-mannered boy" and "the pet of his older sisters," subject to teasing and bullying in a traditional all-male environment who preferred to "stay at home and help his mother." Ten years after the birth of Mohammed, Azza gave birth to Aisha, who had Down syndrome. In February 2004, Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded, and subsequently stated that Abu Turab Al-Urduni had married one of al-Zawahiri's daughters.

Zaynab Khadr recalled celebrating the engagement of Umayma at the family's house for an all-day party, and al-Zawahiri knocking softly at Umayma's door asking the two girls to please keep their singing and partying quiet as it was nighttime.

Azza and Aisha both died following 9/11. After American bombardment of a Taliban officials building at Gardez, Azza was pinned under debris of a guesthouse roof. Concerned for her modesty, she "refused to be excavated" because "men would see her face." Her four-year-old daughter Aisha had not been hurt by the bombing but died from exposure in the night cold while the rescuers tried to save Azza.

Attempted coup

He eventually became one of Islamic Jihad's leading organizers and recruiters. Zawahiri's hope was to recruit military officers and accumulate weapons, waiting for the right moment to launch "a complete overthrow of the existing order." Chief strategist of Al-Jihad was Aboud al-Zumar, a colonel in the military intelligence whose plan was:

" kill the main leaders of the country, capture the headquarters of the army and State Security, the telephone exchange building, and of course the radio and television building, where news of the Islamic revolution would then be broadcast, unleashing - he expected - a popular uprising against secular authority all over the country."

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 Anwar 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.

Imprisonment and torture

Al-Zawahiri was one of hundreds arrested following Sadat's assassination. Al-Zawahiri's lawyer, Montasser el-Zayat, contends that Zawahiri was tortured in prison.

In his book, Al-Zawahiri as I Knew Him, Al-Zayyat maintains that under torture of 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."

Al-Zawahiri was convicted of dealing in weapons and received a three-year sentence, which he completed in 1984 shortly after his conviction.

Leaving Egypt

In 1985, al-Zawahiri went to Saudi Arabia on Hajj and stayed to practice medicine in Jeddah for a year.

He then traveled to Peshawar, Pakistan where he worked in a Red Crescent hospital treating wounded refugees. There he became friends with the Canadian Ahmed Said Khadr, and the two shared a number of conversations about the need for Islamic government and the needs of the Afghan people. During this time, al-Zawahiri also began reconstituting the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) along with other exiled militants. The group had "very loose ties to their nominal imprisoned leader, Abud al-Zumur."

In Peshwar, al-Zawahiri is thought to have become radicalized by other Al-Jihad members, abandoning his old strategy of a swift coup d'etat to change society from above, and embracing the idea of takfir. In 1991, EIJ broke with al-Zumur, and al-Zawahiri grabbed "the reins of power" to become EIJ leader.

In Peshawar, he met Osama bin Laden, who was running a base for mujahideen called Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK); founded by the Palestinian Sheikh Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. The radical position of al-Zawahiri and the other militants of Al-Jihad put them at odds with Sheikh Azzam, with whom they competed for bin Laden's financial resources. Zawahiri carried two false passports, a Swiss one in the name of Amin Uthman and a Dutch one in the name of Mohmud Hifnawi.

Egypt and Sudan

In 1990, al-Zawahiri returned to Egypt, where he continued to influence Islamic Jihad in more radical directions.

Al-Zawahiri and his group struggled financially. He is reported to have visited the United States at least once in the early 1990 in an attempt to raise money for EIJ. In 1993 he appeared on the speaker circuit in several California mosques posing as "Dr. Abdul Mu'iz," of the Kuwaiti Red Crescent, "raising money for Afghan children who had been injured by Soviet land mines from the time of jihad." The trip was a financial failure, raising "at most" $2000, and leading his organization closer to an eventual alliance with al-Qaeda.

Relation with Islamic Republic of Iran

Zawahiri has allegedly worked with the Islamic Republic of Iran on behalf of al-Qaeda. Lawrence Wright reports that EIJ operative Ali Mohammed "told the FBI that al-Jihad had planned a coup in Egypt in 1990." Zawahiri had studied the 1979 Islamist Islamic Revolution and "sought training from the Iranians" as to how to duplicate their feat against the Egyptian government.

He offered Iran information about an Egyptian government plan to storm several islands in the Persian Gulf that both Iran and the United Arab Emirates lay claim to. According to Mohammed, in return for this information, the Iranian government paid Zawahiri $2 million and helped train members of al-Jihad in a coup attempt that never actually took place.

However, in public Zawahiri has harshly denounced the Iranian government. In December 2007 he said, "We discovered Iran collaborating with America in its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq." In the same video messages, he moreover chides Iran for "repeating the ridiculous joke that says that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are agents of America," before playing a video clip in which Ayatollah Rafsanjani says, "In Afghanistan, they were present in Afghanistan, because of Al Qaeda; and the Taliban, who created the Taliban? America is the one who created the Taliban, and America's friends in the region are the ones who financed and armed the Taliban."

Zawahiri's criticism of Iran's government continues when he states,

"Despite Iran's repetition of the slogan 'Death to America, death to Israel,' we haven't heard even one Fatwa from one Shi'ite authority, whether in Iran or elsewhere, calling for Jihad against the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Zawahiri has dismissed that there is any cooperation between Iran and Al Qaeda against their common enemy, to wit, the United States. He also said that "Iran Stabbed a Knife into the Back of the Islamic Nation."

Attacks in Egypt

One result of Zawahiri and EIJ's connection with Iran may have been the use of suicide bombing in August 1993 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 did succeed in injuring 21 Egyptians and killing a young schoolgirl, Shayma Abdel-Halim. It also came following two years of killings by another Islamist group, al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, that had killed over 200. 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.

Zawahiri later wrote of his anger with the public reaction. "This meant that they wanted my daughter, who was two at the time, and the daughters of other colleagues, to be orphans. Who cried or cared for our daughters?"

The 1995 attack on the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad was the Egyptian Islamic Jihad's first success under Zawahiri's leadership, but Bin Laden had disapproved of the operation. The bombing alienated the host of the embassy, Pakistan, and Pakistan was "the best route into Afghanistan"

Expulsion from Sudan and time spent in Russia

In 1996, Zawahiri and his EIJ group were expelled from Sudan following a failed assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and their killing of two boys for betraying the EIJ. At this time he is said to have "become a phantom" but is thought to have traveled widely to "Switzerland and Sarajevo. ... A fake passport he was using shows that he traveled to Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong." In late 1996 he was detained in Russia for six months by the FSB after he was caught trying to cross the border into Chechnya without a visa, posing as a Sudanese merchant. According to FSB spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko, "He had four passports, in four different names and nationalities. We checked him out in every country, but they could not confirm him. We could not keep him forever, so we took him to the Azerbaijani border and let him go." He was apparently put on trial, but was acquitted and subsequently released. However, some have raised doubts as to the true nature of al-Zawahiri's encounter with the Russians: Jamestown Foundation scholar Evgenii Novikov has argued that it seems unlikely that the Russians would not have been able to determine who he was, given their well-trained Arabists and the obviously suspicious act of Muslims crossing illegally a border with multiple false identities and encrypted documents in Arabic. The trial of al-Zawahiri which led to his release from Russian custody was also highly unusual, in that criminal conviction rates in Russia are around 99%. Assassinated former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko alleged, among other things, that during this time, al-Zawahiri was indeed being trained by the FSB, and that he was not the only link between al-Qaeda and the FSB. Former KGB officer and writer Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy supported Litvinenko's claim and said that Litvinenko "was responsible for securing the secrecy of Al-Zawahiri's arrival in Russia, who was trained by FSB instructors in Dagestan, Northern Caucasus, in 1996-1997."

Zawahiri and other EIJ members found refuge in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where Al-Qaeda families had settled. About 250 people were gathered there altogether.

While there Zawahiri learned of a "Nonviolence Initiative" being organized in Egypt to end the terror campaign that had killed hundreds and resulting government crackdown that had imprisoned thousands. Zawahiri angrily opposed this "surrender" in letters to the London newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat. Together with members of al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, he helped organize a massive attack on tourists at the Temple of Hatshepsut to sabotage the initiative by provoking the government into repression.

The attack by six men dressed in police uniforms, succeeded in machine-gunning and hacking to death 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians, including "a five-year-old British child and four Japanese couples on their honeymoons," and devastated the Egyptian tourist industry for a number of years. Nonetheless the Egyptian reaction was not what Zawahiri had hoped for. The attack so stunned and angered Egyptian society that Islamists denied responsibility. Zawahiri blamed the police for the killing, but also held the tourists responsible for their own deaths for coming to Egypt,

"The people of Egypt consider the presence of these foreign tourists to be aggression against Muslims and Egypt, ... The young men are saying that this is our country and not a place for frolicking and enjoyment, especially for you."

The massacre was so unpopular that no terror attacks occurred in Egypt for several years thereafter. Zawahiri was sentenced to death in absentia in 1999 by an Egyptian military tribunal.

Fatwa with Osama bin Laden

President McCain Osama bin Laden 5

Osama bin Laden with Ayman al-Zawahiri in a video broadcasted on Al-Jazeera.

On February 23, 1998, he issued a joint fatwa with Osama bin Laden under the title "World Islamic Front Against Jews and Crusaders". Zawahiri, not bin Laden, is thought to have been the actual author of the fatwa. Similarly, bin Laden's preferred biographer Hamid Mir is reported to have said that he believed that Ayman al-Zawahiri was the operational head of al-Qaeda, and that "[h]e is the person who can do the things that happened on Sept. 11."

On October 10, 2001, al-Zawahiri appeared on the initial list of the FBI's top 22 Most Wanted Terrorists, which was released to the public by U.S. President George W. Bush.

Following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, al-Zawahiri's whereabouts were unknown, but intelligence sources believed that he was in the Bora Gora cave complex in the White Mountains on the Afghan-Pakistani border, leading the fighting against the Coalition troops with Osama bin Laden.

However, on November 24 al-Zawahiri was seriously wounded by Coalition air strikes, but he is successfully evacuated across the border to Pakistan. However, this serious blow to the Al Qaeda organisation was to be for a much serious blow.

Two days later, on November 26, Osama bin Laden was killed in a firefight with U.S. forces supported by airstrikes and mortar fire in the Gora Bora cave complex in the White Mountains. Al-Zawahiri succeeded bin Laden as the leader of Al Qaeda. He managed to consolidate the splintered remnants of Al Qaeda, and ordered them to retreat into Pakistan.

In December 2001, al-Zawahiri published the book Knights Under the Prophet's Banner outlining al-Qaeda's ideology. English translations of this book were published; excerpts are available online.

Between 2002 and 2006, al-Zawahiri's whereabouts were unknown, but he was generally thought to be in tribal Pakistan, although he released videos of himself frequently.

President McCain Osama bin Laden 6

Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri walks through the White Mountains on the Afghan-Pakistani border in October 2001.

On January 13, 2006, the Central Intelligence Agency launched an airstrike on Damadola, a Pakistani village near the Afghan border, where they believed al-Zawahiri was located. The airstrike was supposed to have killed al-Zawahiri and was thus reported in international news the following days. Many victims 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 did discuss the airstrike, but did not reveal if al-Zawahiri was present in the village at that time.

Al-Zawahiri supplied direction for the Lal Masjid siege in July 2007. Pakistani Army troops taking control of the Red Mosque in Islamabad found letters from al-Zawahiri directing Islamic militants Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who ran the mosque and adjacent madrasa. This conflict resulted in 100 deaths.

On 6th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, Zawahri released a 90-minute tape in which he blasted "The guardian of Muslims in Tehran" for "the two hireling governments" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Final days and death

Despite that the Taliban insurgency had become larger, fiercer, and better organized than expected by 2006, the U.S. and ISAF had deployed more troops and improved their strategy to fight the insurgents in Afghanistan.

During 2006 and 2007, the Taliban and Al Qaeda was under increasing pressure from the Coalition forces. Large-scale allied offensives such as Operation Mountain Thrust began attaining major successes against both the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahiri had returned to Afghanistan to lead the fighting against the Coalition forces personally.

In July 2007 Mohammed Omar was killed in a firefight with ISAF forces during operation Achilles. With this the Taliban was practically paralysed, and Al Qaeda had been reduced to 70% of its former strength. However, fighting continued into October.

On October 21, the U.S. had managed to pinpoint al-Zawahiri's position, and decided to control the area as best as possible to prevent him from escaping. The Coalition forces reported that al-Zawahiri, in his radio calls which began in the same day, was clearly under duress, reportedly saying to his fighters, "it it the time to eliminate the infidels, fight for the will of Allah and his messenger Muhammad". After days enduring massive and accurate aerial bombing, he broke radio silence again on October 25 to say his final words to his fighters: "We will never surrender to the infidels. Fight to the death".

On October 27, U.S. and ANA soldiers reported what was believed to be al-Zawahiri and his bodyguards were observed entering a cave. The U.S. soldiers called down several bombing attacks on the cave. The next morning, U.S., Canadian and ANA forces entered the remnants of the cave complex, finding remains of Al Qaeda fighters, but not al-Zawahiri. The U.S. and Canadian soldiers pursued them towards the Afghan-Pakistani border.

At 4:30 P.M. on October 28, the U.S. forces reported that they had killed around 13 in a firefight with Al Qaeda terrorists, but still without finding al-Zawahiri. Following further air strikes on the mountains the Coalition forces claimed they had went, Canadian forces found the bodies of six men; one of them al-Zawahiri. After the body had been handed over to U.S. authorities, who concluded that al-Zawahiri had been severely injured in the shoulder and back by shrapnel and cave particles during the bombing of the cave complex on October 27, and shot in the hip during the firefight, after which he died from high blood loss shortly before the air strike.

On November 1, the Pentagon and White House confirmed that Zawahiri's body had been positively identified.

See also

Flag of al-Qaeda Preceded by:
Osama bin Laden
Leader of al-Qaeda
November 26, 2001 - October 28, 2007
Succeeded by:
Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif

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