Who was Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Al-Qaeda leader killed by US in Afghanistan?

Mohammad Bilal
Mohammad BilalAug 02, 2022 | 12:22

Who was Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Al-Qaeda leader killed by US in Afghanistan?

Former Al-Qaeda chief, Ayman al Zawahiri. Photo: AFP

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who had a $25 million bounty on his head, was killed in a drone strike at Sherpur area in Afghanistan, near the capital city of Kabul on Saturday, July 30. The news of his death was first shared by US President Joe Biden in a live address to the US on Monday afternoon (August 1).

In his statement, Biden said, "This terrorist leader is no more. Zawahiri was a terrorist leader and second to Osama Bin Laden. He was deeply involved in planning 9/11 and murdering 2,977 people in US in 9/11. He played a key role in bombing US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania." 

Taliban reacts: Islamic Emirate spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in a statement confirmed the strike and condemned it, calling it violation of "international principles", Aghanistan's TOLO news agency reported. 

Afghanistan's interior ministry spokesman Abdl Nafi Takoor, however, said that a house was bombed in Sherpur on Sunday (Afghanistan time) but no casualty was reported as the house was empty. 

This is one of the first attacks by US since the country withdrew from Afghan soil on August 31, 2021. At the time of the latest strike too, there were no soldiers on the ground. 

But who is Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al-Qaeda who was on the radar of US?

1. An Egyptian physician: Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri was born in Egypt in 1951. He hailed from a wealthy family which had its roots in the Haribi Tribe in Zawahir, a small town in Saudi Arabia. He graduated in medicine in 1974 from the Cairo University. After that, he served as a surgeon in the Egyptian Army. In 1978, he obtained a masters degree in surgery.

2. Zawahiri in Egypt: Zawahiri already got into the fold of Jihad or the fight for Islam when he was in Egypt. At the age of 14, he joined the Muslim brotherhood, a Sunni Islamic organisation founded in Egypt. When Sayyid Qutb, a member of Muslim Brotherhood was executed by the Egyptian government in 1966, Zawahiri joined four other students in forming an underground cell to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic state.

From Left: Osama bin Laden (L) sits with his advisor Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian linked to the Al-Qaeda network, during an interview with Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. Photo: Getty Images

3. Merge with Al-Qaeda: In 1985, Zawahiri travelled to Saudi Arabia to perform Haj. He stayed in Jeddah for a year, where he practiced medicine. In 1986, he met Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda. He merged his organisation with Al-Qaeda and rose through the ranks to become Bin Laden's personal advisor and physician.

4. Terror attacks of 1998: In August 1998, al-Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden were listed by US as masterminds behind the attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. A series of truck bomb explosions occurred in the two cities. The attack also brought the two men from Al-Qaeda in the global eye. 

5. Most Wanted Terrorist after 9/11:  After the September 11, 2001 attacks on World Trade Centers in New York, Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden were listed by FBI in its Top 22 Most Wanted Terrorist list. The list was released by then American President George W Bush. The same year, in November 2001, the two were given Afghanistan citizenship by the Taliban. 

6. Al-Qaeda's head: By 2009, US had figured out that Zawahiri was the operational and strategic head of the group Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden was only an ideological figurehead. US considered Zawahiri as a bigger threat than Laden. After the death of Laden on May 2, 2011, Zawahiri officially took over the role of the head of Al-Qaeda. Zawahiri's ascension to the top role in Al-Qaeda was even announced on several websites of the group in June 2016. 

7. The Tapes: Zawahiri regularly issued video tapes; often threatening America. In November 2021, he had released a video criticising the United Nations for being hostile to Islam. He also called out Islamic countries against the threat UN posed. The last time he had threatened India was in April 2022, when he released a nine-minute video on the Karnataka Hijab Row, on the channel's official Shabab media where he praised college girl Muskaan Khan for raising her voice against students who objected to her wearing a burqa.

An image grab taken from a video broadcast on Al-Jazeera television December 20, 2006. Photo: AFP

Who's the leader of Al-Qaeda now? After the death of Zawahiri, there are three leaders who can possibly replace the former Al-Qaeda Chief. They are

  • Sayf-al Adl
  • Abdl-Rahman-al-Maghrebi
  • Ahmed Diriye of Al-Shabaad

However, there is no clear succession plan as yet.

Does Al-Qaeda pose a threat to the world and US? According to United Nations Security Council (UNSC) excerpt released on July 15, 2022, Al-Qaeda, at present, is only limited to Afghanistan and lacks external operational capacity. It also cannot afford to cause any embarrassment to the Taliban in Afghanistan, whose government is still to be officially recognised by many countries. Therefore, it doesn't appear that the group will resort to any notorious activity in the foreseeable future.

Last updated: August 02, 2022 | 12:30
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