Ayman Zawahiri

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Ayman al-Zawahiri (born June 19, 1951) is a prominent member of the al-Qaeda group and formerly the head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad paramilitary organization. Al-Zawahiri is a physician by trade. He speaks Arabic, French, and some English.

He has used Abu Muhammad (Abu Mohammed), Abu Fatima, Muhammad Ibrahim, Abu Abdallah, Abu al-Mu'iz, The Doctor, The Teacher, Nur, Ustaz, Abu Mohammed Nur al-Deen, Abdel Muaz (Abdel Moez, Abdel Muez), and other names as aliases.

It is purported that he formally merged Egyptian Islamic Jihad into al-Qaeda in 1998, though the name "al-Qaeda" had not yet been estalished as any formal organization or used that name until 2001. According to reports by a former al-Qaida member, he has worked in the al-Qaida organization since its inception and was a senior member of the group's shura council. He is often described as a "lieutenant" to the head of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden. It is also assumed that al-Zawahiri serves as bin Laden's doctor (bin Laden reportedly suffers from a kidney disorder, possibly requiring dialysis)[1].


Al-Zawahiri was born to a middle class family in[Maadi, Egypt, a suburb of Cairo, and was reportedly a studious youth. By fourteen he had joined the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin), an Islamist group and became a student and follower of Sayyid Qutb. However, events pushed him in a more radical direction (possibly the Six Day War in 1967). By 1979 he had moved on to the much more radical Islamic Jihad, where he eventually became one of its leading organizers and recruiters. He was one of hundreds arrested following the assassination of Anwar Sadat, but the Egyptian government was unable to prove any connection between al-Zawahiri and the crime and he was released after serving jail time for illegal arms possession.

In the 1980s he journeyed to Afghanistan to participate in the mujahideen resistance against the Soviet Union's occupation. There he met Osama bin Laden, who was running a base for mujahideen called Makhtab al-Khidamat (MAK); both of them worked under the tutelage of the Palestinian Abdullah Yusuf Azzam; later when the MAK fractured al-Zawahiri joined bin Laden in organizing the al-Qaida group.

In 1990 al-Zawahiri returned to Egypt, where he continued to push Islamic Jihad in more radical directions employing knowledge and tactics learned in Afghanistan. In late 1996 he was detained in Russia for six months by the FSB after he apparently tried to recruit jihadists in Chechnya. According to the FSB spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko, "He had four passports, in four different names and nationalities. We checked him out in every country, but they could not confirm him. We could not keep him forever, so we took him to the Azerbaijani border and let him go." In 1997 he was held responsible for the massacre of 58 (or 67) foreign tourists in the Egyptian town of Luxor, for which he was sentenced to death in abstentia in 1999 (see below).

In 1998, he issued a joint fatwa with Osama bin Laden under the title "World Islamic Front Against Jews and Crusaders", an important step in broadening their conflicts to a global scale.

In 1999 Al-Zawahiri was sentenced to death in absentia by an Egyptian military tribunal in 1999 for his role in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad insurgency, including the massacre of sixty-two civilian tourists in Luxor in 1997.

Following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in response to attacks of 9/11, al-Zawahiri's whereabouts are unknown; press reports in 2002 said he had been killed by unknown forces, but in early September of 2003 a video of al-Zawahiri and bin Laden, as well as an audiotape, was released to the al-Jazeera network in Qatar, purporting to prove that both are still alive. The U.S. Department of State is offering a reward of up to US$25 million for information leading directly to the apprehension or conviction of Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is wanted for his alleged role in the August 7, 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya.

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