Monday, February 6

Who is Ayman Al Zawahiri, the ideologue of jihadism shot down by the US?


  • The Egyptian, founder of Al Qaeda along with Osama Bin Laden in the 1980s, succeeded his partner after his death in 2011 in another US military operation.

Those who knew him in his college years at Cairo University in the 1960s and 1970s spoke of him as a reserved, shy and very conservative young man. Son of a wealthy family of Egyptian doctors and academics, in his first years of studies, Ayman al-Zawahiri followed in the footsteps of his parents: medical studies.

But soon, after finishing college, the man left the practice and joined the fledgling jihadist movement Egyptian, deeply influenced by the theses and texts of the rigorous theoretician also Egyptian Sayid Qutb.

From there, the jihadist would extend his fight throughout Middle East. In the eighties, between Pakistan Y Afghanistan, fighting against the Soviets, he met a charismatic, rigorous Saudi and, like him, coincidences of life, from a rich family. It was about Osama bin Laden. From that union would be born an incipient Al Qaeda: the first global jihadist organization.

Bin Laden’s right hand

Al Zawahiri was first Bin Laden’s personal physician and adviser; and the ideological muscle of the group. After the death of the Saudi in 2011 —in a US operation in Pakistan—, it was the Egyptian who was hailed as the new leader of the group.

Until this August, when Al Zawahiri was killed by an American drone airstrike on the house where he was hiding, in Kabul. According to Washington, the doctor came to Afghanistan at the beginning of the year, a few months after the victory of the Taliban, a former group allied with Al Qaeda in the 1980s and 1990s.

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a lazy leader

During his reign in Al Qaeda from 2011 to 2022, Al Zawahiri, considered uncharismatic Compared to his predecessor, he saw how his organization dismembered and lost more and more followers. Gone are the years when the group was the most feared in the world.

In 2014, its Iraqi affiliate broke with al Qaeda’s parent company to create the Islamic State (IS), under its leader, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. The IS won the international “marketing” battle against its former ally: the new jihadist project was much more radical and young than the “old” Al Qaeda and its capacity for action and attacks, much greater.

In Syria, another focus of global jihadism due to civil war, the same thing happened but in reverse. Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), the affiliate of Al Qaeda in this country, broke with Al Zawahiri to appear more moderate and tolerant. HTS continues to be, today, an intolerant and jihadist organization, but it rejects the terrorist actions and territorial expansion outside the borders of Syria. Al Zawahiri, abandoned by both sides, ceased to be the center.

Last years

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And so, allegedly hiding in Pakistan, the septuagenarian who was one of the thinkers behind the attack on the Twin Towers in New York in September 2001, reached the final years of his life. After the death of the leader, Bin Laden, Al Zawahiri turned Al Qaeda into a decentralized and without too much ascendancy on the international jihadism.

Despite this, the jihadist was still one of the most wanted: on his head – whoever gave information on where to find it -, the US put a reward of $25 million. With his death, the old guard of Al Qaeda disappears.

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