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Ayman al-Zawahiri

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Ayman al-Zawahiri
أيمن محمد ربيع الظواهري
Ayman al-Zawahiri portrait.JPG
Ayman al-Zawahiri, November 2001.
Born Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri
(1951-06-19) June 19, 1951 (age 64)
Maadi, Cairo, Kingdom of Egypt
Nationality Egyptian
Alma mater Cairo University
Occupation Emir of Al-Qaeda
Religion Islam (Salafism/Jihadism)[1]
Spouse(s) Azza Ahmed
(m. 1978–2001, her death), Umaima Hassan
Military career
Allegiance Flag of Jihad.svg Egyptian Islamic Jihad (1980–1998)[2]
Flag of Jihad.svg Al-Qaeda
Years of service 1980–present
Rank Emir of Al-Qaeda
Battles/wars War in Afghanistan
War in North-West Pakistan

Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri[3] (Arabic: أيمن محمد ربيع الظواهري  ʾAyman Muḥammad Rabīʿ aẓ-Ẓawāhirī, born June 19, 1951)[4] is the current leader of al-Qaeda and a current[5] or former member and senior official of Islamist organizations which have orchestrated and carried out attacks in North America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. In 2012, he called on Muslims to kidnap Western tourists in Muslim countries.[6]

Since the September 11 attacks, U.S. State Department has offered a US$25 million reward for information leading to al-Zawahiri's capture.[7] He is under worldwide sanctions by the United Nations Security Council 1267 Committee as a member or affiliate of al-Qaeda.[8]

Alternate names and sobriquets

Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri is pronounced [ˈʔæjmæn mʊˈħæmːæd rɑˈbiːʕ azˤːɑˈwæːhɪriː] or [aðˤːɑˈwæːhɪriː] in Arabic (the latter is in the Classical). Zawahiri is usually spelled Zawahri (from the pronunciation in his native Egyptian Arabic), but is sometimes spelled "Dhawahri" if transliterated directly from Modern Standard Arabic, also called Literary Arabic, in certain academic circles. Using the Intelligence Community Standard for the Transliteration of Arabic Names, it is spelled Zawahri.

al-Zawahiri has also gone under following names:[9] Abu Muhammad / Abu Mohammed (أبو محمّد), Abu Fatima (أبو فاطمة), Muhammad Ibrahim (محمّد إبراهيم), Abu Abdallah (أبو عبدالله), Abu al-Mu'iz (أبو المعز), The Doctor, The Teacher, Nur (نور), Ustaz (أستاذ), Abu Mohammed Nur al-Deen (أبو محمّد نورالدين), Abdel Muaz / Abdel Moez / Abdel Muez (عبدالمعز).

Personal life

Early life

Ayman al-Zawahiri was born in 1951 in the neighborhood of Maadi, Cairo, the Kingdom of Egypt, to Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri and Umayma Azzam. The al-Zawahiri family was considered "upper middle class" while they lived in Maadi.[citation needed] Al-Zawahiri's parents both came from prosperous families. Al-Zawahiri's father, Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, came from a large family of doctors and scholars. Mohammed Rabie became a surgeon and a medical professor at Cairo University. Ayman's mother, Umayma Azzam, came from a wealthy, politically active clan. Ayman has said that he has a deep affection for his mother. Her brother, Mahfouz Azzam, became a role model for Ayman as a teenager.[10] Ayman has a younger brother, Muhammad al-Zawahiri, and a twin sister, Heba Mohamed al-Zawahiri.[citation needed] Al-Zawahiri's sister, Heba Mohamed al-Zawahiri, became a Professor of Medical Oncology at the National Cancer Institute, Cairo University. She described her brother as "silent and shy".[11] Al-Zawahiri's brother, Muhammad al-Zawahiri, was sent to the Balkans by his older brother in 1993. Ayman al-Zawahiri sent Muhammad to meet with Alija Izetbegović, commander of the 3rd Corps of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, along with senior staff officers attached and religious leaders, to check the Islamisation of the Bosnian Army and the funds received for the mujahedeen fighters in Bosnia.[12] Muhammad was known as a logistics expert and is said to be the military commander of Islamic Jihad. Muhammad worked in Bosnia, Croatia, and Albania under the cover of being an International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) official. While hiding in the United Arab Emirates, he was arrested in 2000, then extradited to Egypt where he was sentenced to death. He was held in Tora Prison in Cairo as a political detainee. Security officials said he was the head of the Special Action Committee of Islamic Jihad, which organized terrorist operations. However, after the Egyptian popular uprising in the spring of 2011, on 17 March 2011 he was released from prison by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the interim government of Egypt. His lawyer said he had been held to extract information about his brother Ayman.[13] However, on 20 March 2011, he was re-arrested.[14] On 17 August 2013, Egyptian authorities arrested Muhammad al-Zawahiri at his home in Giza.[15]

Ayman al-Zawahiri was reportedly a studious youth. Ayman excelled in school, loved poetry, and "hated violent sports" —which he thought were "inhumane." Al-Zawahiri studied medicine at Cairo University and graduated 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 Maadi.[16] In 1978, he also earned a master's degree in surgery.[17] Ayman al-Zawahiri has also shown a radical understanding of Islamic theology and Islamic history.[citation needed] He speaks Arabic, English,[18][19] and French.

Al-Zawahiri participated in Youth activism as a student. He became both quite pious and political, under the influence of his uncle Mahfouz Azzam, and lecturer Mostafa Kamel Wasfi.[20] Sayyid Qutb preached that to restore Islam and free Muslims, a vanguard of true Muslims modeling itself after the original Companions of the Prophet had to be developed.[21]

By the age of 14, al-Zawahiri had joined the Muslim Brotherhood. 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."[22] His cell eventually merged with others to form al-Jihad or Egyptian Islamic Jihad.[16]

Marriage and children

Ayman al-Zawahiri has been married at least four times. His wives include Azza Ahmed Nowari and Umaima Hassan.[citation needed]

In 1978, al-Zawahiri married Azza Ahmed Nowari, a student at Cairo University who was studying philosophy.[20] Their wedding, at the Continental Hotel in Opera Square,[20] was very conservative, with separate areas for both men and women, and no music, photographs, or light-hearted humour.[23] Many years later, when the United States attacked Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks in 2001, Azza had no idea that al-Zawahiri had supposedly been a jihadi emir (commander) for the last decade.[24] In June 2012, one of Zawahiri's four wives, Umaima Hassan, released a statement on the internet congratulating the role played by Muslim women in the Arab Spring.[25]

The couple[clarification needed] has four daughters, Fatima (born 1981), Umayma, Nabila (born 1986), and Khadiga (born 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."[26] 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.[27]

In the first half of 2005, another daughter was born, named Nawwar.[28]

Ayman al-Zawahiri's wife Azza and two of his six children, Mohammad and Aisha, were killed in an air strike on Afghanistan by US forces in late 2001, following the September 11 attacks on the U.S.[29][30] After an American bombardment of a 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 cold night while Afghan rescuers tried to save Azza.[31]


Ayman al-Zawahiri worked in the medical field as a surgeon. In 1985, al-Zawahiri went to Saudi Arabia on Hajj and stayed to practice medicine in Jeddah for a year.[32] As a reportedly qualified surgeon, when his organization merged with bin Laden's al-Qaeda, he became bin Laden's personal advisor and physician. He had first met bin Laden in Jeddah in 1986.[33]

In 1981, Ayman al-Zawahiri also traveled to Peshawar, Pakistan, where he worked in a Red Crescent hospital treating wounded refugees. There he became friends with the Canadian Ahmed Khadr, and the two shared a number of conversations about the need for Islamic government and the needs of the Afghan people.[34][35]

In 1993, al-Zawahiri traveled to the United States, where he addressed several California mosques under his Abdul Mu'iz pseudonym, relying on his credentials from the Kuwaiti Red Crescent to raise money for Afghan children who had been injured by Soviet land mines—he only raised $2000.[36]

Militant activity

Assassination plots


In 1981, Al-Zawahiri was one of hundreds arrested following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.[37] 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.[38] His lawyer, Montasser el-Zayat, said that Zawahiri was tortured in prison.[39]

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."[40]

In 1993, al-Zawahiri's and EIJ's 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 young 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!"[41] The police arrested 280 more of al-Jihad's members and executed six.

For their leading role in anti-Egyptian Government attacks in the 1990s, al-Zawahiri and his brother Muhammad al-Zawahiri were sentenced to death in the 1999 Egyptian case of the Returnees from Albania.


The 1995 attack on the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, was the Egyptian Islamic Jihad's first success under Zawahiri's leadership, but Bin Laden had disapproved of the operation. The bombing alienated Pakistan, which was "the best route into Afghanistan".[42][clarification needed]

In July 2007, Al-Zawahiri supplied direction for the Lal Masjid siege, codename Operation Silence. This was the first confirmed time that Al-Zawahiri was taking militant steps against the Pakistan Government and guiding Islamic militants against the State of Pakistan. The Pakistan Army troops and Special Service Group 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 madrasah. This conflict resulted in 100 deaths.[43]

On December 27, 2007, al-Zawahiri was also implicated in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.[44]


In 1994, the sons of Ahmad Salama Mabruk and Mohammed Sharaf were executed under al-Zawahiri's leadership for betraying Egyptian Islamic Jihad; the militants were ordered to leave the Sudan.[45][46]

United States

In 1998, Ayman al-Zawahiri was listed as under indictment[47] in the United States for his role in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya.

The 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings were a series of attacks that occurred on August 7, 1998, in which hundreds of people were killed in simultaneous truck bomb explosions at the United States embassies in the major East African cities of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. The attacks brought Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri to international attention.

In 2000, the USS Cole bombing encouraged several members to depart. Mohammed Atef went to escape Kandahar, Zawahiri to Kabul, and Bin Laden fled to Kabul, later joining Atef when he realised no American reprisal attacks were forthcoming.[48]

On October 10, 2001, al-Zawahiri appeared on the initial list of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's top 22 Most Wanted Terrorists, which was released to the public by U.S. President George W. Bush. In early November 2001, the Taliban government announced they were bestowing official Afghan citizenship on him, as well as Bin Laden, Mohammed Atef, Saif al-Adl, and Shaykh Asim Abdulrahman.[49]


Egyptian Islamic Jihad

Ayman al-Zawahiri 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. Ayman al-Zawahiri eventually became one of Egyptian 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."[50] Chief strategist of Al-Jihad was Aboud al-Zumar, a colonel in the military intelligence whose plan was to 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."[50]

Maktab al-Khadamat

In Peshawar, he met up with 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.[51] Zawahiri carried two false passports, a Swiss one in the name of Amin Uthman and a Dutch one in the name of Mohmud Hifnawi.[52]

Former FBI agent Ali Soufan mentioned in his book The Black Banners that Ayman al-Zawahiri is suspected of being behind Azzam's assassination in 1989.[53][54][54]


This image used by the FBI shows Ayman al-Zawahiri in Khost, Afghanistan.[55]

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.[56]

On February 23, 1998, al-Zawahiri 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.[57]

Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri organized an al-Qaeda congress on June 24, 1998. A week prior to the beginning of the conference, a group of well-armed assistants to al-Zawahiri had left by jeeps in the direction of Herat. Following the instructions of their patron, in the town of Koh-i-Doshakh they met three unknown Slavic-looking men who had arrived from Russia via Iran. After their arrival in Kandahar, they split up. One of the Russians was directly escorted to al-Zawahiri and he did not participate in the conference. The Western intelligence succeeded in acquiring photographs of him, but he disappeared for six years. According to Axis Globe, in 2004, when Qatar and U.S. investigated Russian embassy officials whom the United Arab Emirates had arrested in connection to the murder of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in Qatar, computer software precisely established that a man who had walked to the Russian embassy in Doha was the same one who visited al-Zawahiri prior to the Al-Qaida conference.[58]

Emergence as al-Qaeda's chief commander

On April 30, 2009, the U.S. State Department reported that al-Zawahiri had emerged as al-Qaeda's operational and strategic commander[59] and that Osama bin Laden was now only the ideological figurehead of the organization.[59] However, after the 2011 death of Osama, a senior U.S. intelligence official was quoted as saying intelligence gathered in the raid showed that bin Laden remained deeply involved in planning: “This compound (where bin Laden was killed) in Abbottabad was an active command-and-control center for al-Qaeda’s leader. He was active in operational planning and in driving tactical decisions within al-Qaeda.”[60]

Following the death of bin Laden, former Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism Juan Zarate said that al-Zawahiri would "clearly assume the mantle of leadership" of al-Qaeda.[61] But a senior U.S. administration official said that although al-Zawahiri was likely to be al-Qaeda's next leader, his authority was not "universally accepted" among al-Qaeda's followers, particularly in the Gulf region. Zarate said that al-Zawahiri was more controversial and less charismatic than bin Laden.[62] Rashad Mohammad Ismail (AKA "Abu Al-Fida"), a leading member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, stated that al-Zawahiri was the best candidate.[63]

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."[56] Within days of the attacks, Zawahiri's name was put forward as Bin Laden's second-in-command, with reports suggesting he represented "a more formidable US foe than bin Laden."[64]

Formal appointment

As of May 2, 2011, he became the leader of al-Qaeda following the death of Osama bin Laden.[61] This was confirmed by a press release from al-Qaeda's general command on June 16.[5] al-Zawahiri's succession to command of al-Qaeda was announced on several of their websites on June 16, 2011.[30] On the same day, al-Qaeda renewed its position that Israel was an illegitimate state and that it wouldn't accept any compromise on Palestine.[65]

The delayed announcement led some analysts to speculate that there was quarreling within al-Qaeda: “It doesn't suggest a vast reservoir of accumulated goodwill for him," said one celebrity journalist on CNN.[66] Both U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen maintain that the delay didn't signal any kind of dispute within al-Qaeda,[67] and Mullen reiterated U.S. death threats toward al-Zawahiri.[68] According to U.S. officials within the Obama administration and Robert Gates, al-Zawahiri would find the leadership difficult as, while intelligent, he lacks combat experience and the charisma of Osama bin Laden.[67][69][70]



Al-Zawahiri was convicted of dealing in weapons and received a three-year sentence, which he completed in 1984, shortly after his conviction.[71]


At some point in 1994, al-Zawahiri was said to have "become a phantom"[72] 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.[73]

On December 1, 1996, Ahmad Salama Mabruk and Mahmud Hisham al-Hennawi – both carrying false passports – accompanied al-Zawahiri on a trip to Chechnya, where they hoped to re-establish the faltering al-Jihad. Their leader was traveling under the name Abdullah Imam Mohammed Amin, and trading on his medical credentials for legitimacy. The group switched vehicles three times, but were arrested within hours of entering Russian territory and spent five months in a Makhachkala prison awaiting trial. The trio pled innocence, maintaining their disguise and having other al-Jihad members from Bavari-C send the Russian authorities pleas for leniency for their "merchant" colleagues who had been wrongly arrested; and Russian Member of Parliament Nadyr Khachiliev echoed the pleas for their speedy release as al-Jihad members Ibrahim Eidarous and Tharwat Salah Shehata traveled to Dagestan to plead for their release. Shehata received permission to visit the prisoners, and is believed to have smuggled them $3000 which was later confiscated from their cell, and to have given them a letter which the Russians didn't bother to translate.[74] In April 1997, the trio were sentenced to six months, and were subsequently released a month later and ran off without paying their court-appointed attorney Abulkhalik Abdusalamov his $1,800 legal fee citing their "poverty".[74] Shehata was sent on to Chechnya, where he met with Ibn Khattab.[72][74][75][76]

Leaving Egypt

During this time, al-Zawahiri also began reconstituting the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) along with other exiled militants.[77] The group had "very loose ties to their nominal imprisoned leader, Abud al-Zumur."[citation needed]

In Peshwar, al-Zawahiri is thought to have become radicalized by other Al-Jihad members, abandoning his old strategy of a swift coup d'état to change society from above, and embracing the idea of takfir.[78] In 1991, EIJ broke with al-Zumur, and al-Zawahiri grabbed "the reins of power" to become EIJ leader.[79]

Activities in the 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.[80]

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."[81] In the same video messages, he moreover chides Iran for "repeating the ridiculous joke that says that al-Qaida 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-Qa'ida; 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."[81]

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 Shiite authority, whether in Iran or elsewhere, calling for Jihad against the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.[81]

Zawahiri has dismissed that there is any cooperation between Iran and Al Qaeda against their common enemy, to wit, the United States.[82] He also said that "Iran Stabbed a Knife into the Back of the Islamic Nation."[83]

In April 2008, Zawahiri blamed Iranian state media and Al-Manar for perpetuating the "lie" that "there are no heroes among the Sunnis who can hurt America as no-one else did in history" in order to discredit the Al Qaeda network.[84] Zawahiri was referring to some 9/11 conspiracy theories according to which Al Qaeda was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

On the seventh anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, Zawahiri released a 90-minute tape[85] in which he blasted "the guardian of Muslims in Tehran" for recognizing "the two hireling governments"[86] in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Alleged activities in Russia

There have been doubts as to the true nature of al-Zawahiri's encounter with the Russians in 1996. Washington, D.C.-based 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.[87][88] Assassinated former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko alleged, among other things, that during this time, al-Zawahiri was indeed being trained by the FSB,[89] and that he was not the only link between al-Qaeda and the FSB.[90] Former KGB officer, speaker on the Voice of America 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."[91]

Activities in Egypt

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.[92] 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.[93]

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.[94]

The massacre was so unpopular that no terror attacks occurred in Egypt for several years thereafter.[clarification needed] Zawahiri was sentenced to death in absentia in 1999 by an Egyptian military tribunal.[95]

Activities and whereabouts after the September 11 attacks

Osama bin Laden sits with his adviser al-Zawahiri during an interview with Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, in November 2001.

In December 2001, al-Zawahiri published the book Knights Under the Prophet's Banner outlining al-Qaeda's ideology.[96] English translations of this book were published; excerpts are available online.[97]

Following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, al-Zawahiri's whereabouts are unknown, but he is generally thought to be in tribal Pakistan. Although he releases videos of himself frequently (see Messages of Ayman al-Zawahiri), 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.[98] 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.

U.S. propaganda leaflet used in Afghanistan, with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri

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.[99] Anti-American protests broke out around the country and the Pakistani government condemned the U.S. attack and the loss of innocent life.[100] 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.[101]

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.[102]

In June 2013 al-Zawahiri arbitrated against the merger of the Islamic State of Iraq with the Syrian-based Jabhat al-Nusra into Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as was declared in April by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.[103] Abu Mohammad al-Julani, leader of al-Nusra Front, affirmed the group's allegiance to al-Qaeda and al-Zawahiri.[104][105]

In September 2015, Zawahiri urged Islamic State (ISIL) to stop fighting al-Nusra Front, the official al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria,[106] 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.[107][108]

Presently, the Rewards for Justice Program of the U.S. Department of State is offering a reward of up to US$25 million for information about his location.[9][109]



Loyalty and enmity

In a lengthy treatise titled "Loyalty and Enmity", Zawahiri argues that Muslims must at all times be loyal to Islam and to one another, while hating or at least being clean from everything and everyone outside of Islam.[110]

Female combatants

Zawahiri has said in an interview that the group does not have women combatants and that a woman's role is limited to caring for the homes and children of al-Qaeda fighters. This resulted in a debate regarding the role of mujahid women like Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi.[111]

Promotional activities

Zawahiri places supreme importance on winning public support, and castigated Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in this regard: "In the absence of this popular support the Islamic mujahid movement would be crushed in the shadows."[112]

Video and audio messages

  • May 2003: Tape was broadcast by al-Jazeera and included the directives (interpreted) "Raze/Singe the floor out from under their feet ... the political and corporate interests of the United States ... and Norway", which caused a global lockdown and extensive confusion for Norway.
  • Early September 2003: A video showing al-Zawahiri and bin Laden walking together, as well as an audiotape, is released to the al-Jazeera network.
  • September 9, 2004: Another video is released announcing more assaults.
  • August 4, 2005: al-Zawahiri issues a televised statement blaming Tony Blair and his government's foreign policy for the July 2005 London bombings.[113]
  • September 1, 2005: al-Jazeera broadcasts a video message from Mohammed Sidique Khan, one of bombers of the London metro. His message is followed by another message from al-Zawahiri, blaming again Tony Blair for the bombings.[114]
  • September 19, 2005: al-Zawahiri claims responsibility for the London bombings and dismisses U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.[115][116]
  • December 7, 2005: The full 40-minute interview from September is posted on the Internet with previously unseen video footage. See below for links.
  • April 3, 2008: al-Zawahiri said that al-Qaeda doesn't kill innocents and that its [former] leader Osama bin Laden is healthy. The questions asked his views about Egypt and Iraq, as well as Hamas.[117]
  • April 22, 2008: An audio interview in which, among other subjects, al-Zawahiri attacks the Shiite Iran and Hezbollah for blaming the 9/11 attacks on Israel, and thus discrediting al-Qaeda.[118]
  • On the 7th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, al-Zawahiri released a 90-minute tape,[85] in which he blasted "the guardian of Muslims in Tehran" for "the two hireling governments"[86] in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • January 7, 2009: An audio message released, where al-Zawahiri vows revenge for Israel's air and ground assault on Gaza and calls the Jewish state's actions against Hamas militants "a gift" from U.S. President-elect Barack Obama for the recent uprising conflict in Gaza.[119]
  • June 2, 2009: Audio messages claiming that Barack Obama is not welcome in Egypt.
  • July 15, 2009: al-Zawahiri urges Pakistanis to support the Taliban.
  • October 4, 2009: The New York Times reported that al-Zawahiri had asserted that Libya had tortured Ibn Al Sheikh Al Libi to death.[120] Al Libi was a key source the George W. Bush Presidency had claimed established that Iraq had provided training to al-Qaeda in Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction.
  • December 14, 2009: In an audio recording released on December 14, 2009, al-Zawahiri renewed calls to establish an Islamic state in Israel and urged his followers to “seek jihad against Jews” and their supporters. He also called for jihad against America and the West, and labeled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia as the “brothers of Satan”.[121]
  • June 8, 2011: al-Zawahiri released his first video since the death of Osama bin Laden, praising bin Laden and warning the U.S. of reprisal attacks, but without staking a claim on the leadership of al-Qaeda.[122]
  • September 3, 2014: In a 55-minute long video, al-Zawahiri announced the formation of a new wing called al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which would wage jihad "to liberate its land, to restore its sovereignty, and to revive its Caliphate." [123] Reaction amongst Muslims in India to the formation of the new wing was one of fury.[124]

Online Q&A

In mid-December 2007, al-Zawahiri's spokespeople announced plans for an "open interview" on a handful of Islamic Web sites. The administrators of 4 known jihadist web sites have been authorized to collect and forward questions, "unedited", they pledge, and "regardless of whether they are in support of or are against" al-Qaeda, which would be forwarded to al-Zawahiri on January 16.[125] al-Zawahiri responded to the questions later in 2008; among the things he said were that al-Qaeda didn't kill innocents, and that al-Qaeda would move to target Israel "after expelling the occupier from Iraq".[126][127]


See also


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  • Kepel, Gilles; & Jean-Pierre Milelli (2010), Al Qaeda in its own words, Harvard University Press, Cambridge & London, ISBN 978-0-674-02804-3.
  • Mansfield, Laura (2006), His Own Words: A Translation of the Writings of Dr. Ayman Al Zawahiri, Lulu Pub.
  • al-Zawahiri, Ayman, L'absolution, Milelli, Villepreux, ISBN 978-2-916590-05-9 (French translation of Al-Zawahiri's latest book).
  • Ibrahim, Raymond (2007), The Al Qaeda Reader, Broadway Books, ISBN 978-0-7679-2262-3.

External links

Statements and interviews