Ayman al-Zawahiri (71), the al-Qa’ida leader killed in a US drone strike in Afghanistan on Sunday, was largely considered the brains behind the notorious terrorist group.
Al-Qa’ida, responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2011, grew out of battlefield bonds forged in the Afghan insurgency against the Soviet Union, which was redirected toward fighting the West.
The group, founded in 1988 by Saudi Arabian-born Osama bin Laden, attracted disaffected recruits who opposed American support for Israel and Middle Eastern dictatorships.
When the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in 1996, it gave al-Qa’ida the sanctuary that enabled it to run training camps and plot attacks, including 9/11.
Zawahiri was recognised as al-Qa’ida’s No 2 leader, the bespectacled, bushy-bearded deputy to bin Laden.
In reality, long-time observers say, he provided the ideological direction, while bin Laden was the public face of the terrorist group.
Zawahiri merged his Egyptian militant group with al-Qa’ida in the 1990s.
For decades, he served as “the mastermind behind attacks against Americans”, said US President Joe Biden.
Such attacks include the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 American sailors and wounded dozens more, and the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed hundreds of people.
“To kill Americans and their allies – civilian and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in every country in which it is possible to do it,” Zawahiri wrote.
After al-Qa’ida’s forced retreat from its base in Afghanistan in 2002, it was largely Zawahiri who led the group’s resurgence in the lawless tribal region across the border in Pakistan, The Washington Post wrote in an obituary.
After bin Laden’s death, Zawahiri remained as a figurehead but failed to prevent the splintering of the Islamist movement in Syria and other conflict zones
When bin Laden was killed aged 54 in Abbottabad, Pakistan, 2011, Zawahiri took over as leader. Although he was the intellectual force, some experts say Zawahiri lacked bin Laden’s charisma.
He remained as a figurehead but failed to prevent the splintering of the Islamist movement in Syria and other conflict zones.
His grip over a sprawling network of affiliates across Africa, Asia and the Middle East was weakened.
The Isis terrorist group, which grew out of al-Qa’ida’s Iraqi affiliate, sought to position itself as a more ruthless alternative.
In his later years, Zawahiri largely shied from public view, presiding over al-Qa’ida at a time of decline, with most of the group’s founding figures dead or in hiding.
© Washington Post