Killed at 71, Ayman al-Zawahri Led a Life of Secrecy and Violence

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 response to U.S. officers, led a life steeped in secrecy, betrayal, conspiracy and violence, most murderously within the Sept. 11 assaults towards the US in 2001.

Whereas Bin Laden, who was killed by an American raid in 2011, was broadly seen because the terrorist mastermind of these assaults, many counterterrorism specialists thought-about Mr. al-Zawahri extra accountable.

Together 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. However he was broadly depicted because the mental backbone of Al Qaeda — its chief working officer, its public relations govt, and a profound affect who helped the Saudi-born Bin Laden develop from a charismatic preacher right into a lethal terrorist with international attain.

In an interview in Could 2011 with the Investigative Mission 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.

Throughout his management of Al Qaeda, the group’s international affect waned because the Islamic State rose. However the group remained a risk, 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 many world’s most-wanted terrorists at his loss of life.

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.

But 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 beliefs developed 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 on the so-called “far enemy,” the US, Al Qaeda’s goal of desire.

The group’s tactical energy lay in its capability 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.

Within the following 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 no less than one event, Mr. al-Zawahri was stated to have died, solely to resurface within the sporadic video and audiotapes that unfold his message.

In Could 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 loss of life.

“Blood for blood,” he stated.

By that point, a more recent era of jihadists had grown, first within the chaos of Iraq after the American invasion, after which spreading to Syria after civil warfare broke on the market in 2011.

Within the ensuing mayhem, the Islamic State rose to prominence as a brand new beacon of jihadist zeal, attracting tens of hundreds of followers with its media-savvy, internet-age messages, its slick movies of beheadings and its seize of big swaths of territory wherein it declared a brand new caliphate for the world’s Muslims.

Shorn of its iconic chief, Al Qaeda, in contrast, 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.

Each teams had been rooted in Sunni Muslim extremism. However the distinctions between them had been legion. Whereas the Islamic State sought hegemony amongst jihadist teams and thirsted for territorial growth, Al Qaeda’s associates confirmed growing 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 fame 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 primarily based in London, wrote that Mr. al-Zawahri was completely happy to let the Islamic State face assaults by U.S.-backed coalition forces in Iraq and Syria, giving Al Qaeda the area to “reconstitute its infrastructure and networks across the Islamic world” and revive its long-term objective of placing 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.” Within the broadcast, Hamza bin Laden exhorted jihadists to hold out “the highest number of attacks” on Western cities. A yr later, in a message aimed toward America titled “We are all Osama,” Hamza bin Laden issued a private attraction 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 bunch of Bin Laden relations 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.

In keeping with Mr. Gohel, Hamza bin Laden had no less than two wives, together with a daughter of Mr. al-Zawahri’s who bore two youngsters, 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 US 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.

Ayman Muhammad Rabie al-Zawahri, certainly one of 5 youngsters, 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 could be a heart of Islamic studying.

His mom’s father was president of Cairo College, founder and director of King Saud College in Riyadh and an envoy to Saudi Arabia and different nations. One other of her relations was the primary secretary common of the Arab League.

Regardless of its prominence, the household displayed little evident prosperity and by no means owned a automobile till Ayman was grown. Lawrence Wright, in his e book “The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” (2006), stated that the al-Zawahris’ reclusive, conservative, even backward methods brought on them to be perceived as “hicks.”

Mr. al-Zawahri was a superb 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).

One other affect was the humiliating defeat the Arab nations suffered by the hands of Israel in 1967. It turned many younger individuals away from the Pan-Arab socialism pursued by President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and towards anti-Western types 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 saved his involvement secret from even his household whereas he attended medical faculty at Cairo College. He graduated in 1974, served three years within the military and earned a grasp’s diploma in surgical procedure in 1978.

By way of his and her households, Mr. al-Zawahri met Azza Nowair, who, Mr. Wright wrote, got here from a well-off background. He steered that in one other time she may need been an expert or a socialite. However she had develop into deeply non secular, wore a veil and spent entire nights studying the Quran.

After they had been married in 1979, Mr. al-Zawahri had seen her face precisely as soon as. On the ceremony, there have been males’s and girls’s sections. On the bride’s request, there was no music or images.

In October 2001, quickly after the assaults on America, Azza al-Zawahri and no less than certainly one of their youngsters had been killed by bombardments in Afghanistan. Wounded, she had refused to be pulled from the rubble, information accounts of the bombardment stated, for concern that rescuers would see her face — an offense towards Islamic modesty. Printed reviews have stated that that they had 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 Crimson Crescent, the Muslim correlate of the Crimson Cross, to deal with refugees fleeing Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion. He visited Afghanistan and acknowledged it as a very good place to launch a jihad, returning many instances.

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 lots of of others, he was convicted solely of gun possession. However because the trial proceeded for practically three years, he was repeatedly tortured in jail. Below interrogation, he revealed the title, actions and whereabouts of certainly 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, steered that the guilt Mr. al-Zawahri felt over this betrayal was a serious motive for his leaving Egypt after he was launched in 1984.

His journey took him to Saudi Arabia after which, in 1986, again to Peshawar, the place Bin Laden typically lectured on the hospital the place Mr. al-Zawahri labored. Mr. al-Zawahri turned Bin Laden’s private doctor, arrange a safety power round him and helped the Saudi start desirous about particular methods to harm the Western powers and the Center Japanese governments they supported.

“When Ayman met Bin Laden, he created a revolution inside of him,” Mr. Zayyat informed The New Yorker. The deal was easy: Mr. al-Zawahri would provide the political acumen and an informed management cadre to show Bin Laden’s free coalition, and his personal unformed impulses, into an instrument of mass homicide. Bin Laden supplied 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 US, a view shared by different counterterrorism specialists.

In 1998, Mr. al-Zawahri wrote a doc supposed to unite militant teams within the frequent explanation for killing Individuals anyplace, not simply within the Center 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 activity of explaining Al Qaeda’s deviation from Islamic teachings that prohibit killing harmless individuals, 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, informed Time journal. “His ideas negate the existence of common ground with others, irrespective of religion.”

Mr. al-Zawahri turned acquainted to the world as the person sitting at Bin Laden’s aspect in movies, and, later, by himself.

Credit score…IntelCenter, by way of Related Press

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.”

However he might 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 army coaching bases. Additionally they 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 individuals 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 houses of Islamic Jihad members. One boy was supposed to go away a suitcase stuffed with explosives close to Mr. al-Zawahri.

However the Sudanese authorities arrested each boys. Mr. al-Zawahri persuaded the authorities to launch them in order that he might 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 on the border and detained, in response to a memo obtained by The Wall Avenue Journal. The Russians did not determine him and launched him.

In 1995 and 1996, a collection of bombings in Saudi Arabia killed Individuals. In 1998, Mr. al-Zawahri commissioned a examine on Jewish affect in the US; it led to the US’ being formally positioned on Islamic Jihad’s checklist of acceptable targets. Bin Laden was so happy that he raised Islamic Jihad’s annual finances from $300,000 to $500,000.

Because of the founding doc written by Mr. al-Zawahri, the Worldwide Islamic Entrance for Jihad on the Jews and Crusaders was fashioned in February 1998, combining the organizations of Bin Laden and Mr. al-Zawahri. Its objective: kill Individuals in every single place.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.