Who is Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number 1 of Al-Qaeda killed by the Americans?

Of Egyptian origin and a surgeon by training, the man is seen as an ideological pillar of Al-Qaeda. Many experts agree that he masterminded the 9/11 attacks.

“Beware that the Afghan hounds find the flesh of your soldiers delicious. So keep sending thousands.” These words, which describe the radicalism of the character, that Ayman al-Zawahiri chose to speak to President Barack Obama during his election in November 2008 to the White House. Became Al-Qaeda’s number one in 2011 with the death of Osama Bin Laden, this Egyptian surgeon was finally killed at the age of 71 in an American strike carried out on Sunday in Kabul. An operation that ended a life dedicated to an extremist vision of Islam and to one goal: killing “infidels”.

Targeted as the mastermind behind 9/11, his death was presented by Joe Biden on Monday night as an opportunity for the relatives of the victims to “turn the page”. Ayman al-Zawahiri is, for many experts on terrorism and the Islamist movement, the ideological backbone of al-Qaeda, bringing the movement of bin Laden – where he has neither the charisma nor the wealth – a political structure and religious.

Trained surgeon

Depicted in blue on his forehead, a sign of an intensive practice of prayer, Ayman al-Zawahiri was born on June 19, 1951 in the suburbs of Cairo, to a family of high Egyptian dignitaries. His father, a professor of pharmacology, had an uncle who was a former grand imam of the Al-Azhar mosque, one of the most famous centers of Islamic learning in the world. His maternal grandfather was the president of Cairo University and a former ambassador.

Before following in his father’s footsteps, Ayman al-Zawahiri, a brilliant student, decided to study medicine at Cairo University, where he graduated with a master’s degree in surgery in 1978. But his religious education began early. yet. At the age of only 15, he joined in 1966 the formation of a militant clandestine cell, with the aim of overthrowing the secular regime in his country of origin. In 1967, like most of his compatriots, he was shocked by the defeat of the Arab countries against Israel during the Six Day War.

His view of Islam was also heavily influenced by reading Sayyid Qutb, an Islamist thinker and militant who saw the world divided into two poles, with believers on one side and non-believers on the other. other, in which he included moderate Muslims. After obtaining his diploma as a surgeon, Ayman al-Zawahiri briefly managed his parents’ duplex, then worked at a Cairo clinic supported by the Muslim Brotherhood. He left Egypt for the first time to serve as an officer in Pakistan, to take care of the Red Crescent for refugees fleeing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

At the same time, he met Azza Ahmed Nowari, whom he married in 1979. In 2011, the latter, also a follower of an extreme vision of Islam, refused in October 2001 to be rescued by men after the bombing of Kabul, while he lay under the rubble, so that they could not see his face uncovered. He will die under the rubble.

Bin Laden’s personal doctor

In 1981, he was arrested for the first time for his role in the assassination attempt on the president of Egypt at the time, Anouar el-Sadat, rebuked by Islamist ranks for signing the Camp-David peace accords with Israel. . In prison, he was tortured on several occasions, so he revealed the name of one of his comrades. the New York Times ensured that it was in particular because of this betrayal that Zawahiri decided to leave Egypt.

He would go to Saudi Arabia, before returning to Pakistan in 1986. There he met Osama bin Laden, son of a wealthy Saudi family, in a hospital where the terrorist was giving lectures. Ayman al-Zawahiri would become bin Laden’s first personal physician, before the two men joined their ideological establishment.

Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. © AFP

“When Ayman met bin Laden, he created a revolution in him,” explained the New Yorker the Egyptian Montasser al-Zayyat, lawyer for many Islamist activists and former co-prisoner of Zawahiri.

The Egyptian then published many texts, confirming his status as the chief ideologist of Al-Qaeda, some of which were intended for militants, explaining to them the duty to kill American nationals around the world. He also has the dangerous task of justifying the ideological wanderings of the terrorist movement, while Islam forbids the killing of innocents and suicide.

Flood the New York subway with cyanide

Zawahiri accompanied bin Laden to Sudan in the early 1990s. Both men were welcomed by the government at the time, while Islamist movements were disintegrating in Afghanistan.

Zawahri planned several attacks, such as one – failed – against the Egyptian Prime Minister, or against the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, in November 1995.

In 2003, he even planned to flood the New York subway with cyanide, but abandoned the idea, judging the process to be “not exciting enough”. Likewise, he launched a massive bio-weapons program in Afghanistan, sending his followers to find scientific and deadly strains of bacteria that cause anthrax.

Then in 1996, he tried to enter Chechnya, a Muslim-majority republic in the Russian Federation. However, he was arrested at the border by the Russians, who eventually released him, having failed to recognize him.

A price was placed on his head

After the attacks of September 11, in which he was presented as the mastermind, he continued to play his role as the ideologue of the movement, publishing many sermons and videos, characterized by his monotonous tone. When bin Laden died, he was naturally appointed as the Saudi successor, after a month of radio silence from the organization.

He became one of the most wanted terrorists in the world, and his head was put on a price of 25 million dollars in Washington. He was declared dead several times, but always reappeared in recordings. During his first speech after bin Laden’s death, he indicated in a 28-minute video that his former leader would continue to “terrorize” America. “Blow for blow,” he promised.

His reign at the head of Al-Qaeda was characterized by the rise of the Islamic State, and the weakening of his own organization. In 2015, preparing for his succession and hoping to remobilize the troops, he decided to publicly present Hamza Bin Laden – who would have died in 2017 or 2018 -, one of Osama’s sons. He wanted to make him his father’s heir. The latter is said to have married one of al-Zawahri’s daughters, as shown in New York Times.

Finally, after hiding in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Ayman al-Zawahiri seems to have benefited from the Taliban’s ascension to power in Kabul last summer to extract some larges from his security practices. . On Sunday, he was killed by an American drone while he was on his balcony, in the center of the Afghan capital.

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