Who was al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri?

Zawahiri, 71, was a key architect behind multiple assaults on the United States and was “deeply involved” in the planning of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Biden said.

“People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer. The United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and ability to defend the American people against those who seek to harm us,” Biden said. from the Blue Room Balcony of the White House.

Here’s what you need to know about Zawahiri and the US strike against him.

Born in 1951, Zawahiri grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Cairo, Egypt, the son of a prominent doctor and grandson of renowned scholars.

His grandfather, Rabia’a ​​al-Zawahiri, was an imam at al-Azhar University in Cairo. His great-uncle, Abdel Rahman Azzam, was the first secretary of the Arab League.

Zawahiri was imprisoned for his involvement in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

“We want to talk to the whole world. Who are we? Who are we?” he said in a prison interview.

By this time, Zawahiri, a young doctor, was already a convinced terrorist who had conspired to overthrow the Egyptian government for years and sought to replace it with a fundamentalist Islamic regime. He proudly endorsed the assassination of Sadat after the Egyptian leader made peace with Israel.

What was his relationship with Osama bin Laden?

Zawahiri left Egypt in 1985 and traveled to Peshawar, Pakistan, where he worked as a surgeon treating fighters who were engaged with Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

It was there that Zawahiri met Bin Laden, a prominent Mujahideen leader and one who had also left behind a privileged upbringing to join the fight in Afghanistan. The two became close, bound by their common bond as “Afghan Arabs”.

After reuniting in Afghanistan, bin Laden and Zawahiri appeared together in early 1998, announcing the formation of the Global Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders – officially merging Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda.

At one time he acted as bin Laden’s personal physician.

“We work with brother Bin Laden,” he said when announcing his terror group’s merger in May 1998. “We’ve known him for over 10 years now. We fought with him here in Afghanistan.”

Osama bin Laden sits with Ayman al-Zawahiri November 10, 2001.

Together, the two terrorist leaders signed a fatwa, or declaration: “The judgment to kill and fight Americans and their allies, whether civilian or military, is an obligation for every Muslim.”

What role did Zawahiri play in Al-Qaeda’s attacks on the United States?

Attacks on the United States and its facilities began shortly after the fatwa of bin Laden and Zawahiri, with the suicide bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed more than 200 people and injured more than 5 000 others.

Then there was the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000, when suicide bombers on a dinghy blew up their boat, killing 17 American sailors and injuring 39 others.

The culmination of Zawahiri’s terrorist plot came on September 11, 2001, when nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked airliner, bound for Washington, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers returned fire.

Before and after the September 11 attacks, Zawahiri appeared on numerous video and audio tapes calling for attacks on Western targets and urging Muslims to support his cause.

Some Egyptians attributed Zawahiri’s anger toward the United States to what many Afghan Arabs felt was the CIA’s betrayal of supporting their cause after the Soviets left Afghanistan and the country slipped into the fold. tribal anarchy.

Others date Zawahiri’s anger to 1998, when US officials pushed for the extradition of a number of Egyptian Islamic Jihad members from Albania to stand trial in Egypt on terrorism charges.

Zawahiri’s brother, Mohammad, told CNN in 2012“Before you call me and my brother terrorists, let’s define its meaning. If it means those who are ruthless and bloodthirsty killers, then that’s not what it’s about,” a- he declared.

“We are only trying to reclaim some of our rights that have been hijacked by Western powers throughout history.”

When did Zawahiri start leading Al-Qaeda?

Zawahiri became the leader of Al-Qaeda after US forces killed Bin Laden in 2011.

He was constantly on the move once the US invasion of Afghanistan began after the 9/11 attacks. At one point, he narrowly escaped a US attack in Afghanistan’s rugged and mountainous Tora Bora region, an attack that left his wife and children dead.

Zawahiri “was not a charismatic leader in the bin Laden mould,” said CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen. said monday. “He didn’t turn out to be a very competent leader of al-Qaeda. But the reason I think he was killed in Afghanistan over the weekend was that he was starting to take a lot more of risks.”

“According to the United Nations, he had released an unprecedented number of videos. Every time you record a video, there is the chain of custody of that video, broadcast it, someone maybe take the video,” said Bergen continued.

“So it was becoming more prominent. And, I think, it seems to me that may be why it was detected.”

During a briefing by a group of United Nations experts last week, it was noted that Zawahiri’s apparent increase in comfort and communication ability coincided with the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and the consolidation of the power of the main allies of Al-Qaeda within their de facto administration.

Zawahiri’s last known public speech was an audio message released July 13 by al-Qaeda’s media arm.

How did the United States kill Zawahiri?

The United States has undertaken “a precision counterterrorism operation” in Afghanistan targeting Zawahiri, who had taken refuge in a refuge in Kabul, a senior administration told reporters on Monday.

According to the official, “a tailor-made precise airstrike” using two hellfire missiles was carried out at 9:48 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 30 – 6:18 a.m. Kabul time – via an unmanned airstrike and was authorized by Biden after weeks of meetings with his cabinet and his principal advisers.

No US personnel were on the ground in Kabul at the time of the strike.

CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Kylie Atwood, Natasha Bertrand and Donald Judd contributed to this report.

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