News / Middle East

Zawahri: From a Life of Comfort to Hunted Terrorist

Osama bin Laden, left, and his top lieutenant, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri, right, are seen at an undisclosed location in this TV image broadcast, October 2001 (file photo)
Osama bin Laden, left, and his top lieutenant, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri, right, are seen at an undisclosed location in this TV image broadcast, October 2001 (file photo)

Ayman al-Zawahri, the new leader of the al-Qaida terror network, was born into a life of comfort in Egypt, but shaped by life experiences into a feared radical Islamic terrorist.

He is a surgeon by training but an ideological firebrand by choice. Now he is replacing Osama bin Laden, who was killed last month by U.S. commandos in a raid on his Pakistani hideout.

Zawahri was bin Laden's deputy, supporting al-Qaida with his organizational and tactical skills, the first to espouse the use of suicide bombings and independent terror cells. His jihad, or holy war mission, was simple and straightforward - inflict "as many casualties as possible" on the Americans and their allies, especially Israel.

Now he is believed to be living somewhere in the mountainous region near the Afghan-Pakistani border, with the U.S. offering a $25 million reward for information leading to his capture. In regular videotapes, he has condemned the U.S., saying that al-Qaida's fight will not be ended until the Western powers leave "the lands of the Muslims."

He was born in Cairo to a wealthy family of doctors and scholars and became involved with radical Islam as a teenager. Like many educated young Egyptians, he was outraged at the treatment of Islamists in the 1960s as Egypt moved toward a Soviet-style state under socialist Gamel Abdel Nasser. Thousands of people suspected of subversion were thrown in jail.

While earning a medical degree, he helped to form the Egyptian Islamic Jihad militant group.

Zawahri traveled to Pakistan for the first time in 1980, working with the Red Crescent Society in the city of Peshawar to provide medical treatment to Afghans wounded in fighting with Soviet troops occupying neighboring Afghanistan. He also made his first trips into Afghanistan that year.

Later, he was one of hundreds tried for links to the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He was acquitted of that, but served a three-year term for illegal arms possession. After his release in 1984, Zawahri returned to Peshawar to support the Afghan insurgency against the Soviets and formed a bond with bin Laden, serving as his personal doctor.

In 1998, Zawahri formed an alliance with bin Laden, becoming his deputy. The United States accuses the Egyptian of helping to organize the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania later that year.

Zawahri also is suspected of playing a major role in the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, for which al-Qaida claimed responsibility from its base in Afghanistan. He went into hiding with bin Laden when U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan weeks later, ousting the country's Taliban militant rulers, who had sheltered the terror network.

Zawahri's hatred of the U.S. also became personal: A U.S. air strike killed the Egyptian's wife and at least two of his children in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province in December 2001.

Zawahri proceeded to rebuild al-Qaida in the lawless tribal regions of the Afghan-Pakistani border and became the new face of the terror network, releasing videos and audiotapes taunting the United States as bin Laden faded from view.

In some videos, the bearded Zawahri could be seen jabbing his finger and staring from behind heavy-rimmed glasses. The Central Intelligence Agency came close to killing or capturing him several times in the Pakistani tribal region.

But he remains at large and now, as he turns 60 later this week, has become the head of al-Qaida.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid