(1951 - )
The following report, with the title, "Ayman
Muhammad Rabi' Al-Zawahiri: The Making of an Arch Terrorist," appeared
in the winter 2002 edition of the journal Terrorism and Political
Violence. It was authored by Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli, senior analyst
of MEMRI's Middle East Economic Studies Program.
Few individuals have had a more central role in articulating
and practicing terrorism than Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Though born into
the Egyptian aristocracy and trained as a surgeon, this gifted individual
has always been attracted to the most extreme forms of Islam. In 1998
he brought his Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization into a union with
the forces of Osama bin Laden, known as Al-Qa'ida (the base), in the
effort to create a globalized network of terror whose capacities were
demonstrated on September 11, 2001, as well as in the earlier destruction
of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and in the damage inflicted
on the USS Cole in the Gulf of Aden.
Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, a surgeon by profession, is
the head of the Egyptian "Islamic Jihad" and second in command
of the Al-Qa'ida organization. He is the intellectual and ideological
force behind it and its leader, Osama bin Laden. Azzam Tamimi, director
of the Institute of Islamic Political Thoughtin London, says Al-Zawahiri
"is their ideologue
His ideas negate the existence of common
ground with other Islamist groups."
Following the air attacks by the United States on
the Al-Qa'ida bases in Afghanistan, and fearing that he might be killed,
Al-Zawahiri was able to smuggle to England a short manuscript detailing
the evolution and the travails of the Islamic Jihad and his association
with the Islamist movements in Egypt and, ultimately, with bin Laden.
The book, titled "Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet,"
with the subtitle "Reflections into the Jihad Movement," was
serialized in the London-based, Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat between
December 2-12, 2001. In addition, "a combination of happenstance
and the opportunism of war" allowed a reporter of the Wall Street
Journal to acquire for $1100 in Kabul Al-Qa'ida computers left behind
following the escape of their operators. The reporter was able to download
hundreds of files regarding the organization, particularly concerning
Al-Zawahiri's internal correspondence and mode of operation.
Al- Zawahiri An Extremist
The Formative Years
Most rank-and-file members of the terrorist movement
in Egypt, the Islamic Jihad, come from a peasant stock or from the slums
of the Egypt's large cities, mired in poverty and driven by despair.
Ayman Al-Zawahiri does not fall into a typical category of Egyptian
extremists-- socially, economically or intellectually. He comes from
a distinguished family that seems never to have faced social or economic
hardships; many of its members would be considered part of the elite
in any society.
Al-Zawahiri's family has its roots in the Harbi tribe
from Zawahir, a small town in Saudi Arabia, located in the "Badr"
area where the first battle between Prophet Muhammad and the infidels
was fought and won by the Prophet. Ayman Al-Zawahiri's great grandfather,
Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Zawahiri came to Egypt in the 1860s and settled in
the city of Tanta in the Nile Delta where a mosque still bears his name.
His grandfather, Sheikh Al-Ahmadi Al-Zawahiri was the Imam of Al-Azhar
Mosque in Cairo. His father, Muhammad Rabi' Al-Zawahiri was a professor
of pharmacology at Ein Shams University who passed away in 1995. His
maternal grandfather, Abd Al-Wahab Azzam, was a professor of oriental
literature and president of Cairo University as well as the Egyptian
ambassador to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, and was so known for
his piety that he was referred to as "the devout ambassador."
His grandfather's brother, Abd Al-Rahman Azzam [pasha], became the first
Secretary General of the Arab League.
Ayman Al-Zawahiri was born on 1 June 1951, in Cairo's
Al-Ma'adi neighborhood. After graduating in 1968 from the Al Ma'adi
secondary school he enrolled in the medical college of Cairo University
and graduated, cum laude, in 1974, with an MD degree. He received a
master's degree in surgery in 1978 and was married in 1979 to Izzat
Ahmad Nuwair who had graduated from Cairo University with a degree in
philosophy but who met the criteria of "a devout wife." Al-Zawahiri's
wife bore him one daughter in Cairo and at least three other daughters
and a son elsewhere, but no information on his children is available.
He has two brothers -- Hassan, who studied engineering and lives outside
Egypt, and Muhammad, who followed Ayman's path to Jihad and is reported
to have vanished in Afghanistan.
At a young age, Al-Zawahiri began reading Islamist
literature by such authors as Sayyid Qutb, abu Alaa Al Mawdudi and Hassan
Al Nadwya. Sayyid Qutb was one of the spiritual leaders of Islamic religious
groups, especially the violent Jihad groups. While other Islamists at
the time, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, were looking to change
their societies from within, Qutb was an influence on Zawahiri and others
like him, "to launch something wider." But like most Islamists
before him and after, Qutb's world views, defined in his book "Ma'alim
'Ala Al-Tariq (Signposts on the Road), published in 1957, was predicated
on a perfect dichotomy between believers and infidels, between Shari'a
(Islamic law) and the law of the infidels, between tradition and decadence
and between violent change and sham legitimacy. To quote Qutb himself,
"In the world there is only one party, the party of Allah; all
of the others are parties of Satan and rebellion. Those who believe
fight in the cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve fight in the cause
of rebellion." In his book, Al-Zawahiri asserts that the Jihad
movement had begun its march against the government in the mid-1960s
when the Nasserite regime confined to prison 17,000 members of the Muslim
Brotherhood and hanged Sayyed Qutb, the leading thinker of the movement
at the time.
At the age 15, Zawahiri joined "Jam'iyat Ansar
al-Sunnah Al-Muhammadiyya," (The Association of the Followers of
Muhammad's Path); a "Salafi" (Islamic fundamentalist)
movement led by Sheikh Mustafa Al-Fiqqi, but soon left it to join the
Jihad movement. By the age of 16, he was an active member of a Jihad
cell headed by Sa'id Tantawi. Tantawi trained Al-Zawahiri to assemble
explosives and to use guns. In 1974, the group split because the group
declared Tantawi's brother as kafir (infidel) because he fought under
the banner of kuffar or infidels which characterized the Egyptian army.
In 1975, after the split, Tantawi went to Germany (and is said to have
disappeared) and Ayman took over the leadership of the cell. He immediately
organized a military wing under Issam Al-Qamari, an active officer in
the Egyptian army at the time (Al-Qamari became Al-Zawahiri's closest
friend and ally. In his book, Al-Zawahiri as I Knew Him, lawyer Muntasir
Al-Zayyat maintains that under torture of the Egyptian police, following
his arrest in connection with the murder of President Sadat, Al-Zawahiri
revealed the hiding place of Al-Qamari which led to his arrest and eventual
execution). Al-Zawahiri's extreme caution and secretive nature spared
him the attention of police. To aid their secrecy the group avoided
growing beards like most Islamists, and hence they were known as "the
The Radicalization of Al-Zawahiri
The defeat of Egypt in the Six-Day War of 1967 has
further radicalized Al-Zawahiri and his generation. As he points out
in his memoirs:
"The most important event that influenced the
Jihad movement in Egypt was the "Naksa" (or "the Setback")
of 1967. The idol, Gamal Abd Al-Nasser, fell. His followers tried to
portray him to the people as if he was the eternal leader who could
never be defeated. The tyrant leader who used to threaten and pledge
in his speeches to wipe out his enemies turned into a winded man chasing
a peaceful solution to save at least a little face."
Abd Al-Nasser was consumed by termites and he fell
on his face amid the panic of his followers. The Jihad movement got
stronger, realizing that the enemy was nothing but an idol created by
the propaganda machine and the tyrannical campaigns against innocent
people. The Nasserist movement was knocked out when Gamal Abd Al-Nasser
died three years after "the Setback" and after the destruction
of the legend about the Arab nationalist leader who will throw Israel
into the sea.
Abd Al-Nasser's crowded funeral was nothing but evidence
of the coma that the Egyptian people were living through. It was the
farewell for a leader that the Egyptians soon replaced with a new leader
who took them to another direction and started to sell them a new illusion.
At the age of 24, Al-Zawahiri's intellectual development
was greatly enhanced by Dr. Abdallah Azzam, a Palestinian, who came
to Egypt to study at Al-Azhar University. His studies at Al-Azhar convinced
Azzam of the role of Islamic Jihad as the solution to social and political
problems. Azzam would become the spiritual leader of the movement of
Arab and Muslim volunteers to the Jihad in Afghanistan, and the spiritual
father of Osama bin Laden. (Azzam was blown up with his two sons in
their car in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 1989, and their murder has remained
Al-Zawahiri's advancement in the Jihad movement was
relatively rapid. In a recent book by Muhammad Salah on The Afghani
Arab Journey to Jihad, the author considers Al-Zawahiri as a distinctive
phenomenon. Not only was Zawahiri's background different from most radical
Islamists but also his rapid rise to the top and his "heavy-weight
impact on the thoughts of the various Islamic movements, in general,
and on the Jihad Movement, in particular, was phenomenal."
Indeed, by the early 1970s, barely 20 years old, Al-Zawahiri had obtained
the rank of "amir" (or leader of a group or front) when he
was implicated in the murder of President Anwar al-Sadat.
Sadat's Legacy and the Rise of Religious
When Anwar Al-Sadat had become President of Egypt
upon the death of Gamal Abd Al-Nasser in September 1970, he envisioned
Egypt as "The State of Science and Faith." After years of
suppression by Nasser, Muslim organizations, in general, and the Muslim
Brotherhood, in particular, were permitted, indeed encouraged, by Sadat
to operate openly. In the words of Al-Zawahiri, "Sadat let the
genie [the Jihad movement] out of the bottle." This was also "a
time of political change from the Russian era to the American era"
in the political life of Egypt.
Sadat himself was either a former member or sympathizer
of the Muslim Brotherhood, and he had a soft spot for them. In fact,
during the Sadat reign, Egypt underwent a process of clericalization,
as measured by the number of hours devoted to religious programs in
the official Egyptian media, particularly Egyptian television. In 1963,
religious programming on television did not exceed 2.3% of televised
time but it rapidly increased to 8.97% in 1973 and to 9.54% in 1980.
In terms of programming hours, televised religious programs increased
from 528 hours in 1973 to 754 hours in 1980/81 or to an average of about
two hours a day. On Sadat's orders, the five daily Muslim prayers were
By the time the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood
began emerging from long imprisonments imposed by the Nasser regime,
many of them were now in their 50s and had lost touch with the Egyptian
street, particularly with its young generation. In fact, the younger
Islamists had already been drawn to the writings of Sayyid Qutb, whose
book, Ma'alim 'ala Al-Tariq (referred to earlier), which was outlawed
in Egypt, has become a primer for all radical Islamic movements. Sadat,
who considered the Nasserites and the leftists as his principal enemies,
overlooked the looming danger from the Islamic extremist movements that
were advocating the violent overthrow of the regime and the establishment
of a new regime founded on fundamental Islamic principles. These radical
Islamic movements, operating under Sadat's benevolence, would soon consume
him. The Islamist movement itself lived to regret the assassination
of Sadat which unleashed a severe reprisal against them. In the words
"After Sadat's assassination the torture started
again, to write a new bloody chapter of the history of the Islamic movement
in Egypt. The torture was brutal this time. Bones were broken, skin
was removed, bodies were electrocuted and souls were killed, and they
were so despicable in their methods. They used to arrest women, make
sexual assaults, call men with women's names, withhold food and water
and ban visits. And still this wheel is still turning until today
Egyptian army turned its back toward Israel and directed its weapon
against its people."
Although not directly involved in the planning for
the assassination of Sadat (whom he characterizes as an American agent)
Al-Zawahiri alleges that the attempt on Sadat's life was part of a larger
plot to liquidate as many of Egyptian leaders as possible. In reality,
no one but Sadat was assassinated. Al-Zawahiri also relates the attempt
to assassinate President Husni Mubarak on his way to perform the Eid
prayers in a mosque. The presidential motorcade took a different route
and the attempt had failed.
Al-Zawahiri Shifts His Vision and
Al-Zawahiri's association with Afghanistan, which
eventually led to his alliance with bin Laden, started a little over
a year before his arrest in connection with the assassination of Sadat.
While holding a temporary job in Al Sayyeda Zaynab clinic, operated
by the Muslim Brotherhood in one of Cairo's poor areas, Al-Zawahiri
was asked about going to Afghanistan to take part in a relief project.
He found the request "a golden opportunity to get to know closely
the field of Jihad, which could be a base for Jihad in Egypt and the
Arab world, the heart of the Islamic world where real battle for Islam
He spent the next 4 months in Peshawar, Pakistan.
For him, this experience was providential because it opened his eyes
to the wealth of opportunities for Jihad action in Afghanistan. His
previous attempt to find a base for a Jihad movement in Egypt was not
successful because, he says, "the Nile Valley falls between two
vast deserts without vegetation or water which renders the area unsuitable
for guerilla warfare, and which also made the Egyptian people submit
to the central authority."
Al-Zawahiri completed his prison term at the end of
1984. In his memoirs he writes that for personal reason he was unable
to leave Egypt until 1986 to rejoin the jihad in Afghanistan. Thus,
in 1986, he left Egypt for Saudi Arabia under a contract with Ibn Al-Nafis
Hospital. However, he would soon depart to Pakistan to join the thousands
of so-called Arab Afghans who flocked to Peshawar to help the Afghan
Mujahedeen fight the war against the Soviet Union. In his second trip
to Peshawar, he worked as a surgeon in the Kuwaiti Red Crescent Hospital.
Eventually, he would go to the war zone for three months at a time to
perform surgeries on wounded fighters, often with primitive tools and
rudimentary medicines. At the same time, he opened the "Islamic
Jihad" bureau in Peshawar to serve both as a liaison point for
new Mujahedeen and a recruitment agency. Peshawar itself was both a
gateway city and staging ground for the Mujahedeen.
In Afghanistan, Al-Zawahiri would find the perfect
place for his Jihad movement to gain "operational, military, political
and organizational" experience. In Afghanistan, Muslim youth fought
a war "to liberate a Muslim country under purely Muslim banners."
For him, this was a significant matter because everywhere else wars
were fought under "nationalist banners mingled with Islam and sometimes
even with leftist and communist banners." The case of Palestine,
he says, is a good example where banners got mingled and where the nationalists
allied themselves with the devil and lost Palestine. For Al-Zawahiri,
when wars are fought not under pure Islamic banners but rather under
mixed banners, the boundaries between the loyalists and the enemies
get confused in the eyes of the Muslim youth. Is it, he asks, the external
enemy who occupies the land of Islam or the internal enemy who prevents
the rule of Islam and "spreads debauchery and decay under the banner
of progress, freedom, nationalism and liberation?" In Afghanistan,
the picture was very clear: "a Muslim people fighting [a Jihad]
under the banner of Islam against an infidel external enemy supported
by corrupt internal system." He went on to write:
The most important thing about the battle in Afghanistan
was that it destroyed the illusion of the superpower in the minds of
the young Muslim Mujahedeen. The Soviet Union, the power with the largest
land forces in the world, was destroyed and scattered, running away
from Afghanistan before the eyes of the Muslim youth. This Jihad was
a training course for Muslim youth for the future battle anticipated
with the superpower which is the sole leader in the world now, America.
The Struggle with Competing Islamist
In 1988, three leaders of the Al-Jama'a Al-Islamiyya,
which was in disagreement with Al-Zawahiri's Islamic Jihad, arrived
in Peshawar from Egypt, headed by Muhammad Shawqi Al-Islambuli, the
brother of Sadat's assassin, Khaled Al-Islambuli, to challenge Al-Zawahiri.
The Al-Islambuli's group was funded by Saudi Arabia. Soon conflict erupted
between these two extremist groups, the Jama'a and the Islamic Jihad,
particularly with the publication of a magazine called "Al-Murabitoon"
by Al-Jama'a, and another magazine, Al-Fath by Al-Zawahiri. Al-Murabitoon
accused Al-Zawahiri of depositing in his Swiss bank account money he
had collected to support the Mujahedeen. He was also accused of selling
arms provided by bin Laden and using the proceeds to buy gold nuggets.
In the face of these accusations, some relief agencies decided to cut
off their aid to Al-Zawahiri, and the need for funds forced him to seek
assistance from Iran. This move further alienated the Gulf countries,
particularly, Saudi Arabia which henceforth channeled all its aid to
Al-Jama'a. By the time the Soviet Union started pulling out of Afghanistan
in 1992 the conflict between the two groups reached the stage of mutual
accusation of Takfir, or apostasy, and individual acts of assassination.
Al-Zawahiri emerged the winner from this conflict, largely because of
bin Laden's support and because of the murder of Abdallah Azzam, the
spiritual leader of bin Laden.
Militant Jihad: the New Paramount
In Peshawar, Al-Zawahiri drew a strict distinction
between his movement, the Islamic Jihad, and other competing Islamist
movements; for example, Al-Jama'a Al-Islamiya and, to a lesser extent,
the Muslim Brotherhood movement. In his book, Al-Hisad Al-Murr (The
Bitter Harvest) Al-Zawahiri articulates his violence-driven and inherently
anti-democratic instincts. He sees democracy as a new religion that
must be destroyed by war. He accuses the Muslim Brotherhood of sacrificing
Allah's ultimate authority by accepting the notion that the people are
the ultimate source of authority. He condemns the Brotherhood for renouncing
Jihad as a means to establish the Islamic State. He is equally virulent
in his criticism of the Al-Jama'a Al-Islamiya for renouncing violence
and for upholding the concept of constitutional authority. He condemns
the Jama'a for taking advantage of the Muslim youth's enthusiasm which
"it keeps in its refrigerators as soon as the young people have
joined its movement or seek to direct them toward conferences and elections
(rather than toward Jihad)."
Al-Zawahiri takes his criticism a step further by
characterizing the Muslim Brotherhood as "kuffar" (infidels.)
Their adherence to democracy to achieve their political goals means
giving the legislature rights that belong to Allah. Thus, he who supports
democracy is, by definition, infidel. "For he who legislates anything
for human beings," writes Al-Zawahiri, "would establish himself
as their god." Since democracy is founded on the principle of political
sovereignty, which becomes the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong,
whoever accepts democracy is an infidel. He deplores the Muslim Brotherhood
for mobilizing the masses of youth "to the ballot box" instead
of mobilizing them to the ranks of Jihad. He criticizes the Brotherhood
for extending bridges of understanding to the authorities that rule
them. These bridges become part of a package or a quid pro quo: the
rulers allow the Brotherhood a degree of freedom to spread their beliefs
and the Brotherhood acknowledges the legitimacy of the regime. For him,
those who have been endorsing this philosophy cannot be trusted even
if they were to split from the Brotherhood. Their minds are forever
polluted and set in stone.
Al-Zawahiri draws attention to the enormous financial
wealth of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. This "material prosperity,"
he argues, is the result of the Brotherhood's leaders who escaped Nasser's
oppression and took over regional and international banks and businesses.
Joining the Brotherhood, says Al-Zawahiri, guarantees the young recruits
the means of making a living and, hence, their activities are driven
more by materialistic than spiritual considerations.
In his memoirs, "Knights under the Banner of
the Prophet" Al-Zawahiri responds to the criticism leveled against
him for his strident condemnation of the Muslim Brotherhood. While he
concedes that, as a human being, he may have erred in some details,
he still considers the Muslim Brotherhood to be a movement that grows
organizationally but commits suicide ideologically and politically.
One of the most visible aspects in the political suicide is their support
of the election of President Mubarak in 1987. He goes on to use a medical
metaphor to makes his point:
It is not expected of the physician to tell the patient
that your brain is healthy and your heart is healthy and your kidneys
are healthy and your other body parts are in good shape except your
stomach which has a cancer. It is incumbent on the physician to tell
the patient that his life is in danger from a serious disease and it
is incumbent on the patient to start treatment quickly or he will face
The Merger of the Jihad and Al-Qa'ida
While the ideological war with Al-Zawahiri's rivals
was ongoing, the relationship between him, as the head of the Egyptian
Jihad organization, and bin Laden, as the head of the Al-Qa'ida, strengthened.
The two have agreed that the Islamic Jihad should retain its identity
as an essentially Egyptian organization while the Al-Qa'ida was to remain
a multi-national organization and, in time, it became the melting pot
of the "Afghan Arabs", or volunteers to the Mujahedeen ranks.
At the end of this war in 1990, Al-Zawahiri may have
preferred to stay in Afghanistan but the new mujahedeen government in
Kabul, under Burhan Al-Din Rabbani, sought to get rid of the "Afghan
Arabs," Al-Zawahiri thus looked for a reliable base to reorganize
and, thus, he followed bin Laden to Sudan. Always security-conscious
and secretive, to throw up a false trail he announced on his way to
Sudan, that he was granted political asylum in Switzerland and when
he returned to Afghanistan after three years in Sudan, he announced
that he had selected Bulgaria as the country of asylum.
The New Base in Sudan
In 1989, a new Islamic Front, led by Dr. Hassan Turabi,
took over power in Sudan and instituted a new Islamist regime which
favored Islamic fundamentalist movements everywhere. It was a perfect
environment for bin Laden and Al-Zawahri to establish bases in the country.
Farms were purchased and converted into military training basis for
four years, between 1992 and 1996.
Bin Laden invested heavily in Sudan which was undergoing
a severe economic crisis. His investments bought him and Al-Zawahiri
a secure refuge and a number of their key followers. Al Zawahiri had
become concerned that Sudan, under international pressure, might betray
them for financial gains as it did in the case of Carlos (the Venezuelan
Marxist terrorist). The two of them looked for a new base of operation
and found themselves welcomed only by the new Taliban government in
Afghanistan. However, Al-Zawahiri first went to Yemen where he established
three boot campsBadr, Al-Qadisiyya, and Maraqeshawhich attracted
volunteers from Egypt, Sudan, Afghanistan and even from some sub-Saharan
African countries. The volunteers who were called "Talai' Al-Fath"
(the Vanguards of Victory) received training in guerilla warfare, including
From Yemen Al-Zawahiri was involved in a number of
terrorist initiatives. In 1994, he organized an attempt to murder the
Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Sidqi in Cairo, but the attempt failed.
He followed that attempt with another one to blow up a bus carrying
Israeli tourists to the famous old bazaar in Cairo, Khan al-Khalili,
at the height of the tourist season. This attempt also failed but resulted
in the arrest of 107 suspects. Al-Zawahiri was successful, however,
in blowing up the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, for allegedly
gathering information on the Jihad Movement. In his memoirs, Al-Zawahiri
explains this event:
"We had to react to the Egyptian government's
expansion of its campaign against Egyptian fundamentalists outside the
country. So we decided to target a painful goal for all the parties
of this evil alliance. After studying the situation we decided to assign
a group to react to this and we assigned their targets, first bombing
the American embassy in Islamabad and if that wasn't easy, then one
of the American targets in Islamabad. If that didn't work, then the
target should be bombing a Western embassy famous for its historic hatred
for Muslims, and if not that, then the Egyptian embassy. Our extensive
and detailed surveillance found that targeting the American Embassy
was beyond the abilities of the assigned group, so we decided to study
one of the American targets in Islamabad, and we discovered it has few
American employees and most of the victims would be Pakistani. We also
discovered that targeting the other Western embassies was beyond the
abilities of the assigned group, so we settled on targeting the Egyptian
embassy in Islamabad, which was not only running a campaign for chasing
Arabs in Pakistan but also spying on the Arab Mujahedeen
Pakistani security found in the ruins of the embassy evidence revealing
the cooperation between India and Egypt in espionage."
"A short time before the bombing the embassy
the assigned group asked our permission. They told us they could strike
both the Egyptian and American Embassies if we gave them extra money.
We had already provided them with all that we had and we couldn't collect
more money. So the group focused on bombing the Egyptian embassy. The
rubble of the embassy left a clear message to the Egyptian government."
Terrorism Against American Embassies
in East Africa
Al-Zawahiri's biggest success was sending his and
Al-Qaida's volunteers to Somalia to fight the American presence in that
country and eventually causing the U.S. to withdraw. His volunteers
fought under the command of a young Egyptian man, Ali Al-Rashidi, also
known as Abu-Ubaida Al-Banshiri. From Somalia, Al-Banshiri was sent
to Kenya to establish a base of operations for terrorist activities
against the United States in East Africa. Al-Banshiri drowned in an
alleged accident in Lake Victoria. After a period of uncertainty, Al-Banshiri
was replaced by another Egyptian, Subhi Abu Sitta, also known as Abu
Hafas Al-Masri who was responsible for organizing the bombing of the
American embassies in Nairobi and Dar-Es-Salaam. In a final incarnation,
Subhi Abu Sitta became Muhammad Atef, who was to become the field commander
of Al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan. One of Abu Sitta's daughters married bin
Laden's son, Muhammad, in January 2001. An American bomb killed Abu
Sitta/Atef in Kabul in November 2001.
Toward the end of 1994 and early 1995 attempts were
made by Al-Zawahiri, under the guidance of bin Laden, to coordinate
the activities of the various Islamic terrorist movements to carry out
sabotage activities against the United States in order to break its
'hegemony' in the Middle East. Meetings were held in Tehran, Khartoum
and Cyprus (city unknown) with the participation of Imad Fadhia al-Mughniyah
(of Hezbollah, wanted by the U.S. for murdering an American passenger
on a commercial airliner and dumping his body on Beirut airport's tarmac),
Fathi Al-Shiqaqi (of Palestinian Islamic Jihad), Musa Abu Marzuq (of
Hamas), in addition to Sheikh Abd Al-Majid Al-Zindani from Yemen as
well as representatives from the Nahdha Movement in Tunisia, and Al-Jama'a
Al-Islamiyya of Pakistan. In the last meeting, held in Khartoum in April
1995, Al-Zawahiri laid down three fundamental directions for the next
stage of the struggle: first, increase the effectiveness of the Islamic
networks in London and New York, particularly in Brooklyn; second, increase
the effectiveness of the Islamic militias in the Balkans; and third,
provide greater support to the armed Islamic groups in Somalia and Ethiopia.
The conferees agreed to establish a high-level coordinating
body of the armed Islamic movements comprising Al-Zawahiri, Imad Fadhia
Al-Mughniyah and Ahmad Salem. In less than a month, this body met in
Cyprus and agreed to increase the number of volunteers to Bosnia and
to ask Al-Zawahiri to visit the U.S. to see first hand the modus operandi
of the Islamic networks there. Al-Zawahiri visited the U.S. in 1996
and helped raise a considerable amount of money for "the widows
and orphans" of Afghanistan.
Upon reestablishing themselves in Afghanistan in 1996,
the two leaders bin Laden and Zawahiri began articulating the position
of Al-Qa'ida vis-à-vis the United States. They concluded that
America was the Number One enemy of Muslims everywhere and that its
support of some Arab regimes, mainly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, has been
responsible for the failed efforts to topple those regimes. It was at
the end of 1997 that bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri declared war on Americans
everywhere, after an initial statement of war in 1996 against the American
presence in the region only. Afterwards, the objectives were expanded.
On 23 February 1998 bin Laden issued a declaration announcing the creation
of "The World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and the Crusaders
[Christians]." A Fatwa (edict) accompanied the declaration by bin
Laden that "the killing of Americans military and civiliansand
the looting of their properties is a duty for Muslims everywhere."
In addition to bin Laden, the declaration was signed by Al-Zawahiri
as leader of Jama'at al-Jihad and by Rifa'i Taha, the man in charge
of the Advisory Council of the Islamic Movement in Egypt. From this
union between Al-Qa'ida and the Egyptian Jihad group "grew an apocalyptic
vision that in many ways resonates more of Al-Zawahiri's than of bin
Soon after that, the group would establish a travel
office in Egypt to facilitate the transport of volunteers to join the
Al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan. The travel office was headed by Ismail Nasser
Al-Din, who had spent 15 years in prison for terrorist activities in
Egypt. His new title would become "Muhandis Tasfeer" or travel
agent/facilitator. Egypt was only too happy to see her Islamic fundamentalists
leave for the war in Afghanistan, hoping that they would be killed or
at least would not return to Egypt. Many of these volunteers were trapped
in places like Kunduz, Mazar Al-Sharif, and Tora Bora, not to be heard
Trip to Chechnya and Prison in Russia
The looting of Al-Zawahiri's computer after his escape
from Kabul and its subsequent sale to a reporter of the Wall Street
Journal have added enormously to our knowledge about Al-Zawahiri's previously
unknown activities. One such activity was his attempt to smuggle himself
into Chechnya, his arrest by the Russian security police, his trial
and subsequent release. This story is revealing and worth telling.
In the early morning hours of 1 December 1996, Al-Zawahiri,
disguised as Mr. Amin with two operatives on fake Sudanese passports
and a Chechen guide tried to cross the Chechen boarder in an attempt
to establish a base in that territory. He was arrested at the boarder
with his advanced communications equipment and a large sum of money
in different denominations. During his trial in April, 1997, "he
lied fluently and prayed frequently." The judge had to call several
recesses because of the "defendants' disruptive piety." When
asked about the purpose of his visit he responded that "they wanted
to find out the price for leather, medicine and other goods." The
Russian security policy which confiscated Al-Zawahiri's computer at
the time of his arrest had failed to read its Arabic content. Lacking
other evidence, the Russian judge let them go free. Documents found
on Al-Zawahiri by the Russians included "a visa application for
Taiwan; a bank card from Hong Kong; details of a bank account in Guangdong,
China; a receipt for a computer modem bought in Dubai; a copy of a Malaysian
company's registration certificate that listed Dr. Zawahiri under an
alias, as a director; and details of an account in a bank in St. Louis,
Al-Zawahiri Summarizes His Achievements
In the introduction to his autobiography, Knights
under the Banner of the Prophet, Al-Zawahiri writes:
"I wrote this book to convey the message to our
generation and the generations to come. Due to these worrying circumstances
and unsettled conditions I may not be able to write later. And I expect
it will not be published by a publisher and distributed by a distributor.
This book is an attempt to revive the consciousness of the Islamic nation,
to tell them about their duties and how important these duties are and
how the new crusaders hate Muslims and the importance of understanding
the difference between our enemies and our friends."
"This book is a warning for the evil powers targeting
our nation that your defeat draws nearer daily and we are taking step
after step to retaliate against you and that your fight with the [Islamic]
nation is doomed to defeat and all your efforts will come to nothing
but merely postpone the inevitable victory of our nation."
"The battle has become international after all
the powers of blasphemy united against the Mujahideen. I wanted to show
in this book some of the details of this epic and to warn readers of
this book that hidden enemies and their wolves and foxes are on the
road and you should be wary of them."
In the book, Al-Zawahiri provides his version of the
political situation in Egypt today. He says that there are two competing
powers in the country an official power and a popular power.
The first is supported by America, the West, Israel and the majority
of the Arab rulers. The second depends on Allah alone. It is spreading
widely and is allying with the Jihad movements from Chechnya in the
north to Somalia in the south and from Turkmenistan in the East to Morocco
in the West. The hostility between the two powers arises from the attempt
by the first power "to drive Islam out of all spheres of life by
force, tyranny and forged elections." But despite all of this,
Al-Zawahiri lists "the harvest" of the Jihad movement in the
years between 1966 and 2000:
The spread of the movement, particularly among
The confrontation with the enemies of Islam
"to the last drop of its blood".
The continuing sacrifice of tens of thousands
of Muslims-- injured, arrested and killed.
The internationalization of the struggle against
Islam after America has become convinced that the Egyptian regime cannot,
by itself, stand up to the fundamentalist movement.
The continuation of the battle. The Islamist
movement is either in an attack mode or in the preparation for an attack.
The Islamist movement has been able to articulate
its principles based on the Koran and the religious scholars.
On the negative side, Al-Zawahiri lists the following
Poor planning and preparation for Jihad activities.
Despite successes, such as the assassination of Sadat, the movement
should avoid randomized actions.
The lack of populist sermons... Most sermons
are directed at the educated people. Given the restrictions on spreading
the call for the Jihad it is particularly important to address the masses.
The reluctance of some movement leaders to continue
armed confrontation. As an example, Al-Zawahiri mentions the decision
by the Al-Jama'ah Al-Islamiyyah in Egypt in 1997 to suspend all armed
action against the regime.
On balance, Al-Zawahiri concedes that the movement
has failed to establish an Islamic regime in Egypt.
Suicide Operations The Most
Effective Way of Harming the Opponent
In the last chapter of his book, Al-Zawahari examines
the future of the Islamic movement in the world, in general, and in
Egypt, in particular, and reaches the following conclusions:
The internationalization of the battle: The enemies
of Islam have mastered the following instrument to fight it: (1) the
United Nations; (2) the loyal rulers of the Islamic peoples; (3) the
multinational corporations; (4) the international communications networks;
(5) the international news agencies and media networks; and (6) the
international relief agencies which are used for "spying, proselytizing,
planning coups and transferring weapons."
Against this alliance, stands the Islamist alliance
comprising of the Islamist movements in the entire Islamic world. These
movements are growing outside the new world order, under the banner
of Jihad for the sake of Allah, freed from Western imperialist domination
and from the apostate countries of America, Russia and Israel.
Also, against this alliance, stands the Islamist alliance
of Jihad movements in the various Islamic countries and in the two countries
that were "liberated in the name of Jihad for the sake of Allah
(Afghanistan and Chechnya.)" This alliance, while "still in
its infancy," is growing rapidly and multiplying. It is a new force
"outside the new international order, and liberated from the domineering
[There is] No solution but through the Jihad. This
awareness is spreading amongst the new community of Islamists. What
stand behind this spread of the new awareness is the viciousness "of
the new crusade and Jewish war which treats the Islamic nation at utmost
contempt." Al-Zawahiri calls on the Islamic movement to acquire
the qualities of steadfastness, perseverance, patience and adherence
to principles. The leadership must serve as an example.
Al-Zawahiri warns that "the victory of the struggle
of the Islamic movement against the international alliance will not
be accomplished without acquiring an Islamist base in the heart of the
Islamic world." He acknowledges that the creation of an Islamic
state in the heart of the Islamic world is not an easy target to be
achieved, or soon. However, it is the aspiration of the Islamic community
to restore the caliphate and renew its vanished glory.
Al-Zawahiri is prepared, however, to sacrifice his
call for perseverance and steadfastness in favor of self-preservation.
What happens, he asks, if the movement's membership or its plans were
discovered and its existence was in danger, and what if its resources
were confiscated? "The answer in my view," asserts Al-Zawahri,
"is that for the movement to withdraw as much as it can to a safe
place and carry the war against the Americans and the Jews in their
homes and against their bodies." When that occurs, "the masters
in Washington and Tel-Aviv" will blame their agent-regimes for
their failure to deter these attacks and force them to wage a war against
the Muslims which would turn the war into a war against the infidels.
He concludes with a vision of conflict on a world scale:
"The Crusader-Jewish alliance under the leadership
of America will not permit any Muslim power to govern in any of the
Islamic countries. It will mobilize all its resources to strike at the
(Islamic power) in order to remove it from governing
will wage a war worldwide
We have to prepare ourselves for a battle
not only in one region but a battle that will include both the internal
enemy [ruling government] and the external Crusader-Jewish enemy."
Bin Laden Talks about September
After the events of 11 September, Al-Qa'ida jumped
on the Palestinian bandwagon to appeal to the Arab masses. In a video
statement on Al-Jazeera television, bin Laden, with Zawahiri at his
side, all but admitted his responsibility for the terrorist attacks
on September 11th by praising the perpetrators as martyrs. After claiming
that "Here is America struck by Allah the Almighty in one of her
vital organs," he went on to state that "Allah has blessed
a group of vanguard Muslims, the forefront of Islam, to destroy America.
May Allah bless them and allot them a supreme place in heaven
Palestine was next. In bin Laden's words: "In these days, Israeli
tanks rampage across Palestine, in Ramallah, Rafah, and Beit Jala and
many other parts of the land of Islam, and we do not hear anyone raising
his voice or reacting. But when the sword fell upon America after 80
years, hypocrisy raised its head up high bemoaning those killers who
toyed with the blood, honor and sanctities of Muslims."
Next, it was Al-Zawahiri's turn to speak on al-Jazeera
T.V. On November 9, 2001, he had this to say: "Bush lies to his
people when he claims to have destroyed the Al-Qa'ida group and broken
the ranks of the Taliban. The whole world laughs at his lies."
He went on to assert that "our Jihad, with the help of Allah, will
continue until we liberate our holy places from the American-Jewish
aggression in Palestine and the rest of the Arab world." He concluded
his speech by promising more blows to America. In a recent interview
with the Pakistani newspaper "Jang" Al-Zawahiri is quoted
as saying that "Tel-Aviv is our next target."
Islamists Respond to Al-Zawahiri's Memoir
Taking issue with Al-Zawahiri's criticism of personalities
and events associated with this movement, the lawyer for the Islamic
movement in Egypt, Muntasir Al-Zayyat, wrote a rebuttal in a book titled
"Al-Zawahiri as I Knew Him" which was serialized in the other
London-based, Saudi newspaper, Al-Hayat, from January 10-17, 2002.
Although his response is mostly polemical, Al-Zayyat
provides considerable insights on three issues: first, the primary motivation
for Zawahiri's departure for Afghanistan; second, operational failures;
and, third, the influence of the bin Laden-Al-Zawahiri alliance on the
Islamic movement in Egypt in particular and on Islam, in general.
The Departure for Afghanistan
In his memoirs, Al-Zawahiri maintains that his departure
for Afghanistan was entirely driven by his desire to take advantage
of a situation which offered a great opportunity for Jihad. While Al-Zayyat
does not fully challenge this assertion he argues strongly that one
reason for Al-Zawahiri's desire for a quick exit from Egypt had to do
with the information he had given to the police which led to the arrest
of his close friend, Issam Al-Qamari. The police investigation minutes,
quoted by Al-Zayyat, suggest that Al-Zawahiri arranged to meet his friend
at a location surrounded by security personnel so that Al-Qamari could
be arrested without bloodshed. By contrast, in his memoirs Al-Zawahari
draws a fantastic picture of great heroism shown by Al-Qamari and a
small group of his comrades who were hiding in a workshop. When the
police tried to break into the hiding place Al-Qamari, according to
Al-Zawahiri, lobbed hand grenades and opened fire from automatic weapons
causing a lot of fatalities and confusion among the police. Al-Qamari
was chased by the police in the narrow lanes of the poor Cairo neighborhood
lobbing hand grenades at his pursuers. The battle went on for hours
until Al-Qamari's ammunition was exhausted. Al-Zawahiri's story sounds
like a sheer fantasy.
Al-Zayyat suggests that Al-Zawahiri has failed in
most of his undertakings. The following are some illustrations:
Complete Military/Operational Failure. All the operations
against "the symbols of the Egyptian government had failed."
Al-Zayyat mentions the failed attempts on the lives of the Minister
of Interior, Hassan Al-Alfi, and the former Prime Minister Atef Sidqi.
The last attempt was a public relations disaster because it resulted
in the death of a young schoolgirl who happened to be in the vicinity
where the attempted assassination was to take place. The murder of the
little girl was a public relations disaster for the Islamist movement
in Egypt and resulted in the arrest of many of its members. In his own
memoirs Al-Zawahri admits to the murder of the little girl and adopts
a legalistic stand. According to the Shari'a [Islamic law], he says,
when a Muslim kills another Muslim inadvertently the family of the victim
is entitled to a form of compensation and the girl's family was compensated
Serious Organizational Dysfunction. The worst manifestation
of organizational dysfunction was the arrest of a group of activists
who tried to steal a military truck to be used in the transportation
of weapons and explosives. The operation failed but resulted in the
arrest of 800 of the Jihad's members. Al-Zayyat also refers to the stationing
of the Islamic Jihad members in Yemen and Sudan and Al-Zawahiri's failure
to find the resources to sustain their families.
The Arrest of Leadership Elements of the Islamic Jihad.
This was the result of the arrest of one of Al-Zawahiri's closest aides
with a computer disc listing all the members of the Islamic Jihad worldwide.
It resulted in the arrest and sentencing by the military tribunal of
108 members of the organization.
The Implications of Al-Zawahiri's alliance with bin
Laden. The friendship between Al-Zawahiri and bin Laden affected the
thinking of the two men. Al-Zawahiri was able to convince bin Laden
to discard relief efforts in favor of Jihad against the oppressive rulers,
primarily in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and to turn the evacuation of American
forces from Saudi Arabia into a cardinal objective of the struggle against
the infidels. Bin Laden was able to convince Al-Zawahiri to discontinue
the military operations inside Egypt and, instead, focus on the common
enemies America and Israel. This required a shift in ideological priorities
in Al-Zawahiri's agenda from fighting the immediate enemy to fighting
the distant enemy.
An even more lethal criticism of Al-Zawahiri was recently
made by Al-Azhar University in Cairo. It refers to Al-Zahahiri group's
efforts to turn Egypt into "an Islamic base through which they
exercise control over the Arab and Muslim world." Al-Azhar decried
Al-Zawahiri's attempt to create a new Khalifate similar to the one they
created in Afghanistan (Mulla Omar, the leader of Taliban, was referred
to as Khalif Omar). Looking at the groups bloody past, Al-Azhar refers
to the murder of tourists, terrorizing the people and killing a child."
Al-Zawahiri;s group, in short, is "a misguided group outside the
book of Allah and his messenger."
 As published in the journal Terrorism and Political
Violence Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 1-22.
 For more from MEMRI's Radical Islamist Profiles
series, please see:
MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 72: Radical Islamist
Profiles (1): London - Abu Hamza Al-Masri -
MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 73: Radical Islamist
Profiles (2): Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad -
Time.com, "Hate Club," November 12, 2001.
A commentator in the same newspaper speculated
that, by the "Knights," the author was referring to the leaders
of the Islamist movements and a response to the "Knights of the
Holy Grail" which characterized the Christian Crusaders in the
The Wall Street Journal, January 14 and 16, 2002.
The Arab world often uses the term mutashaddid
(extremist) rather than irhabi (terrorist).
Some Egyptian reporters suggest that the family
roots may extend as far back as Omar ibn-Al-Khattab, the second Muslim
Until his final departure from Egypt in 1985, Al
Zawahiri lived at No. 10, 154th street, in al-Ma'adi where he was born
and had lived. Al-Zawahiri's mother and niece still live in that house.
According to the head of the Center for Islamic Studies in London, Mrs.
Al-Zawahiri and his only son, Muhammad, were killed in Kandahar; Al-Hayat,
11 Dec., 2001. Al-Zawahiri, in an alleged telephone interview with Al-Majallah
(December 16-22, 2001) denied that.
As best as can be ascertained, Al-Zawahiri has
had no contacts with his family, including his mother, in Egypt, because
of his desire to maintain anonymity as a leader of an underground movement
and with a death sentence meted out on him by the Supreme Security Court
Christian Science Monitor, October 1, 2001.
11 This was a religious-ideological movement which
swept many organizations into the original and fundamental principles
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, December 4, 2001.
An Egyptian magazine speculates that he was killed
by Israeli agents to prevent him from taking his beliefs in Jihad to
the Palestinian territory. This would appear to be far-fetched because
the Islamic Jihad has already existed in the area. See Akher Sa'a, October
Al-Hayat, Nov 18, 2001.
An interview with Zawahiri's great uncle and lawyer,
Mahfuz Azzam in Akher Sa'aa, 17 Oct., 2001.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, December 4, 2001.
"Documents from the years of jihad,"
Al-Hayat, October 17, 2001.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, December 5, 2001.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, December 7, 2002.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, December 3, 2001.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, December 3, 2001.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, December 10, 2001.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, December 10, 2001.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, December 10, 2001.
The activities of bin Laden/Zawahiri in Sudan
and their eventual conflict with Turabi on strategy is documented in
Al-Hayat, March 12, 2002.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, December 3, 2001.
Rose Al-Yusuf, October 19, 2001.
Jane's Intelligence Review, October 3, 2001.
The Wall Street Journal, July 2, 2002.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, December 2, 2001.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, December 12, 2001.
Translation by Middle East Economic Survey, October
Al-Hayat, November 11, 2001.
Quoted in Al-Hayat, November 21, 2001.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, December 6, 2001.
www.lailatalqadr.com/stories/p4180402, April 18,
*Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst
of MEMRI's Middle East Economic Studies Program.