- BBC News World
The United States killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda, last Sunday in a drone attack in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, coordinated by the CIA.
Al Zawahiri, originally from Egypt, co-planned the S-11 attacks with Osama bin Laden, and was one of the United States’ “most wanted terrorists.”
“Justice has been served and this terrorist leader is no more,” US President Joe Biden said in a televised address on Monday.
President Biden claimed that al Zawahiri had “traced the path of murder and violence against American citizens.”
According to the president, he had become the leader of al Qaeda after the operation that eliminated Bin Laden 11 years ago. From underground, he coordinated the extremist organization’s affiliates around the world, Biden said, urging, inspiring and providing operational guidance for attacks on US targets.
His death brings closure to the suffering of the families of the nearly 3,000 victims of the 2001 attacks, the president added.
Biden said he had given the authorization for the “precision strike” against the Egyptian extremist after months of planning.
From a traditional family to a radical youth
Ayman al Zawahiri was born in Cairo, Egypt’s capital, on June 19, 1951. His family was respectable middle-class, many of whom were doctors and academics.
His father was a professor of pharmacology at Cairo University, his grandfather was grand imam of al-Azhar, the center of Sunni Islamic learning in the Middle East, and one of his uncles was the first secretary general of the Arab League.
Al Zawahiri became involved in political Islam while still going to school and was arrested at the age of 15 for being a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and oldest Islamic organization in Egypt.
However, his political activities did not prevent him from graduating as a doctor in 1974 and then obtaining a specialization in eye surgery four years later.
At first he carried on the family tradition, developing a medical clinic in a Cairo suburb, but he soon found himself attracted to radical Islamist groups and in 1973 joined the newly founded Egyptian Islamic Jihadopposed to the secular government of his country.
In 1981 he was arrested with other members of the organization accused of the assassination of President Anwar Sadat during a military parade.
During the mass trial, al-Zawahiri emerged as the leader of the group and was filmed declaring in court: “We are Muslims who believe in our religion. Our intention is to found an Islamic state and an Islamic society.”
Although he was not linked to Sadat’s assassination, he served a three-year prison sentence for illegal weapons possession. According to his fellow inmates, Al Zawahiri was regularly tortured and beaten during this period, an experience that allegedly transformed him into a fanatical and violent extremist.
After being released in 1985, he moved to Saudi Arabia. Shortly thereafter he headed to Pakistan and then to neighboring Afghanistan, where he established an Egyptian Islamic Jihad faction while working as a doctor in that country during the Soviet occupation.
He was a central figure in a series of attacks on government targets in Egypt and a violent campaign to establish an Islamic state in the 1990s that claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Egyptians.
A military court in Egypt sentenced him to death. as an absentee prisoner.
Al Qaeda ideologue
It is believed that he traveled the world during the 1990s seeking sanctuary and funding sources until, in 1997, he moved to the city of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where he met and joined forces with a wealthy Saudi, Osama bin Ladenwho was in charge of al Qaeda.
Together with other radical organizations they formed the Islamic World Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders. His first proclamations included an edict allowing the slaughter of American civilians.
US authorities believed he had played a key role in the attacks on their embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998. 224 people were killed and more than 4,500 were injured.
With that attack, Bin Laden made himself known to the world. Al Zawahiri was often identified as “the mright anus of B.in Laden“ and the ideological head of al Qaeda.
Two years later, Al Zawahiri staged an attack on the US Navy ship USS Cole in Yemen. The attack, in which two suicide bombers participated, caused the death of 17 sailors.
Some experts believe that he was the “operating brain” behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
It took the United States a decade to locate and kill Bin Laden. After that, Al Zawahiri assumed leadership of al Qaeda.
But he became a remote and marginal figure, only occasionally posting messages. He got relatively little influence as that new groups and movements such as the self-styled Islamic State became increasingly influential.
Still, he was one of America’s “most wanted terrorists.”
Al Zawahiri had numerous aliases under which he was hiding, according to the FBI: Abu Mohamed, Abu Fatima, Mohamed Ibrahim, Abu Abdullah, Abu al Mu’iz, The Doctor, The Teacher, Nur, Ustaz, Abu Mohamed Nur al Deen and Abdel Muaz.
The investigative body offered $25 million for information leading to his capture.
The attack on the al Qaeda leader was carried out by the CIA on Sunday. Authorities said al-Zawahiri was on the balcony of a house in Kabul, Afghanistan, when a drone fired two missiles at him.
Other family members were present, but they were not injured, as reported by US authorities.
“No matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and bring you out,” Biden said.
A Taliban spokesman described the US operation as a clear violation of international principles.
“Such actions are a repetition of the failed experiences of the last 20 years and go against the interests of the United States, Afghanistan and the region,” the spokesman added.
This event comes after the chaotic withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan a year ago, under orders from President Biden, ending 20 years of military presence and ceding control to the Taliban.
Under the 2020 agreement with the US, the Taliban has pledged not to allow al Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in areas under its control.
However, the Taliban and al Qaeda are long-standing allies and US authorities said the fundamentalist group was aware of al Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul.
In a session to explain the background to the operation, US intelligence officials said that Taliben affiliates had visited the site of the attack with the intention of covering up Al Zawahiri’s presence there.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that by harboring and protecting Al Zawahiri in Kabul, the Taliban had seriously violated the peace agreement.
The drone attack is the first known US intervention inside Afghanistan since the military withdrawal in August last year. But despite that withdrawal, the long-running “war on terrorism” continues slowly, said the BBC’s North America correspondent, John Sudworth.
No doubt a new al Qaeda leader will emerge, but it is very likely that he will have even less influence than his predecessor.
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