The gates of jihad were opened for Ayman al Zawahiri when he was a young doctor in a Cairo clinic. One day a visitor arrived with a tempting offer: the chance to give medical care to Islamic fighters fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

With that offer in 1980, Al Zawahri he embarked on a life that after three decades would take him to the top of the world’s most feared terrorist group: Al Qaedaafter the death of Osama bin Laden.

Already an experienced militant who sought the overthrow of the “infidel” regime of Egypt from the age of 15, Al Zawahri took a trip to the Afghan war zone, which opened his eyes to new possibilities.

What he saw was “the training course that prepared the young Muslim mujahideen to launch their next battle against the great power that would rule the world: the United States.written in a 2001 biography-manifesto.

Al Zawahri71 years old, was killed over the weekend by a US drone in Afghanistan. President Joe Biden announced the death Monday night in an address to the nation.

The attack is likely to cause more disruption within the network than the death of Bin Laden in 2011, since it is much less clear who his successor would be.

as the right hand of Bin Laden (the young Saudi millionaire he met in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region), Al Zawahri was a crucial element in pointing the jihadist movement’s weapons at the United States. Under his leadership, Al Qaeda carried out the deadliest attack ever on American soil: the suicide hijackings of September 11, 2001.

The attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon told Bin Laden in the number 1 enemy of the United States. But it is likely that he would never have been able to reach a cape without his deputy.

While Bin Laden came from a privileged background in a prominent Saudi family, Al Zawahri had the experience of a surreptitious revolutionary. Bin Laden contributed to Al Qaeda charisma and money, but Al Zawahri brought the tactics and organizational skills needed to forge militants into a network of cells in countries around the world.

“Bin Laden always admired him”, said terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University.

When the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 it finished with the refuge of Al Qaeda and scattered, killed and captured its members, Al Zawahri guaranteed the survival of Al Qaeda. He rebuilt his leadership in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and installed his allies as lieutenants in key posts.


In this file image released by SITE Intelligence Group on October 4, 2009, Ayman al-Zawahiri is shown praising Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi.

He also became the public face of the movement, broadcasting a constant stream of video messages while bin Laden basically went into hiding.

With his thick beard, his thick-rimmed glasses, and a lesion on his forehead caused by prostration in prayer, it was notoriously poignant and pedantic. He feuded ideologically with critics within the jihadist camp, and in his videos he waved his hand with his finger extended as if he were scolding someone. Even some key figures in al Qaeda’s central leadership were alienated, calling him overly controlling, secretive and divisive which contrasted with bin Laden, whose presence and soft voice many militants described in worshipful, almost spiritual terms.

Still, he transformed the organization from a central planner of terrorist attacks to the head of a franchise chain. He led the creation of a network of autonomous branches throughout the region, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, North Africa, Somalia and Asia.

In the decade after 9/11, Al Qaeda he inspired or directly participated in attacks in all these areas, as well as in Europe, Pakistan and Turkey, including the 2004 Madrid train bombings and the 2005 London transport bombings. More recently, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen has proven capable of planning attacks on US soil with an attempted bombing attack in 2009 on a US airliner and a package bomb attempt the following year.


Ayman al Zawahiri with Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

After the death of Bin Laden in a US raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Al Qaeda proclaimed Al Zawahiri its supreme leader less than two months later.

The jihad against the United States “does not stop with the death of a commander or leader,” he said.

The 2011 Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East threatened to deal a severe blow to Al Qaeda, by showing that jihad was not the only way of destruction of the Arab autocrats. It was mainly pro-democracy liberals and leftists who led the uprising that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the goal that Al Zawahiri did not get for a long time.

But Al Zawahiri tried to co-opt the wave of uprisings, insisting that they would have been impossible had the 9/11 attacks not weakened the United States.. And he urged Islamist hardliners to pick up the slack in nations whose leaders had fallen.

Al Zawahiri was born on June 19, 1951in an upper-middle-class family of doctors and academics, in the Cairo suburb of Maadi.

From a young age he was drawn to the radical writings of Sayed Qutb, the Egyptian Islamist who taught that Arab regimes were “infidels” and perhaps would be replaced by an Islamic government.

In the 1970s, while earning his medical degree, he was active in militant circles. He merged his own militant cell with others to form the Islamic Jihad group, and began trying to infiltrate the army, even storing weapons in his private clinic.

Then came the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981 at the hands of Islamic Jihad militants. The murder was carried out by a different cell of the group, and Al Zawahiri he has written that he learned of the plot just hours before the assassination. But he was arrested along with hundreds of other militants and spent three years in prison.

Upon his release in 1984, Al Zawahiri returned to Afghanistan and joined Arab militants from across the Middle East who fought alongside the Afghans against the Soviets. He allied himself with bin Laden, who became a heroic figure for his financial support of the mujahideen.

Al Zawahiri followed bin Laden to his new base in Sudan, and from there he led a regrouped faction of Islamic Jihad in a violent campaign of attacks aimed at overthrowing the US-allied Egyptian government.

The move failed. But Al Zawahiri would bring to Al Qaeda the tactics he perfected in Islamic Jihad.

He promoted the use of suicide bombings, which would become the hallmark of Al Qaeda. In 1995 he masterminded a suicide car bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, killing 16 people, which preceded the 1998 al Qaeda attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed more than 200 people, attacks for which Al Zawahiri He was charged in the United States.

In 1996, Sudan expelled Bin Laden, who brought his fighters back to Afghanistan, where he found a safe haven under the radical Taliban regime. Once again, Al Zawahri followed him.

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