#Planner #Bin #Laden #Successor
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was killed in a US drone strike in Afghanistan, was the key ideologue behind the global terror network for several decades but never revived the status it enjoyed under charismatic founder Osama bin Laden.
The Egyptian ophthalmologist, 71, played a central role in al-Qaeda’s signature attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the massive attack on the United States itself on September 11, 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people .
But during the decade he chaired the group after a US attack that killed bin Laden in 2011, it never regained prominence as the aggressive Islamic State group took the lead in the jihadist movement and conquered large parts of the territory in Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a caliphate.
But although some analysts said Zawahiri was increasingly aged and slow, he appeared to be trying to rebuild the group in partnership with the Taliban since they took control of Afghanistan last August.
“Justice has been brought about and this terrorist leader is no more,” President Joe Biden said as he announced Zawahiri’s death in a US drone strike in Kabul, where he appeared to have moved after years in hiding on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
– Bin Laden’s doctor –
Zawahiri grew up in a comfortable household in Cairo before turning to dissident politics.
He became involved in Egypt’s radical Islamist community from a young age and was reportedly arrested at the age of 15 for joining the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
He was sentenced to three years in Egypt for militancy and was involved in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 and the massacre of foreign tourists in the city of Luxor in 1997.
He then linked up with bin Laden in Afghanistan, became al-Qaeda’s chief strategist – and, to underscore their closeness, served as bin Laden’s personal doctor.
He was one of five signatories to bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa calling for attacks on Americans and began appearing regularly alongside the al-Qaeda leader.
Often it was up to Zawahiri – identifiable by a prominent bump on his forehead – to motivate the group’s followers with his intimidating video performances to jab fingers and stare from behind thick-rimmed glasses.
Like bin Laden, he disappeared after the September 11, 2001 attacks, surviving several attempts on his life and reappearing after reports that he had already died.
But he remained in the US’s sights, with a $25 million bounty on his head for the 1998 attacks in Africa.
– Overshadowed by the Islamic State –
Zawahiri took command of al-Qaeda in 2011 after US Navy SEALs raided bin Laden’s Pakistani home and killed him at point-blank range.
The new jihadist leader remained at large around the Afghan-Pakistani border, with a severely reduced organization overshadowed by the Islamic State.
Still, al Qaeda was able to maintain a security threat through strong franchises in Yemen, Africa and East Asia.
Analysts described Zawahiri’s leadership as more of an advisory board than a coherent, centralized command.
Analysts Colin Clarke and Asfandyar Mir wrote in Foreign Policy that while Zawahiri has “invoked less personality cult” than bin Laden, it is just as dangerous to the United States.
“While al-Qaeda has been unable to replicate an attack like 9/11, that is also a naïve measure of success,” they said.
He never shied away from publicly threatening his enemies and maintained allies with those, like the Taliban, who were deterred by Islamic State’s tactics targeting other Muslims.
“Zawahiri’s call for unity and his general disinterest in outdoing violence allowed al-Qaeda to present itself to its supporters and potential recruits as the more reliable jihadi front against Islamic State,” Clarke and Mir wrote.
– New life in the Taliban –
The rise of the Taliban to control Afghanistan seemed to give the group hope for a stronger future.
A July United Nations report said Zawahiri had recently shown “greater comfort and ability to communicate” with close allies in the Taliban administration.
Zawahiri is unlikely to launch international attacks in the short term so as not to embarrass the new leadership in Kabul, the report says.
Nevertheless, “the international context is favorable for al-Qaeda, which intends to be recognized again as the leader of global jihad”.
#Planner #Bin #Laden #Successor