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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
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 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.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid