Hunt is on for Zawahiri, ‘brains’ behind Bin Laden
Osama provided the cash, Zawahiri the smarts – and now he’s running al-Qaeda
Even as the news broke that Osama bin Laden, America's most wanted terrorist, had been found and killed, there were voices of caution to be heard amid the celebratory cries of 'USA': they were warning that this is far from the end of al-Qaeda.
Many have begun to ask who Bin Laden's successor will be. In fact, such a question may prove itself moot. In the eyes of many, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama's right-hand man and a Salafist firebrand, has long been known as the brains behind al-Qaeda.
Born in Egypt to a well-educated and middle-class family, Zawahiri was apparently head of his own Muslim Brotherhood affiliated militant group by the age of 15. After qualifying as a surgeon in Cairo, he was convicted for playing a role in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, and jailed for three years during which time he became an increasingly conservative Islamist.
After his release, he headed to Afghanistan to serve as a doctor in the Red Crescent during the Soviet invasion. It was during this time that he established a branch of Islamic Jihad, of which he remains emir today. A few years later, while working in Pakistan, he finally met Bin Laden, who, following the death of his father, had inherited a small fortune.
From that point on, it is said that Zawahiri supplied the ideology, and Bin Laden the money. In 1988, both men attracted international attention for the bloody attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Around the same time, al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad chose to merge into what is still officially known as Qaeda al-Jihad, which went on to espouse the killing of infidels the world over. Zawahiri, by all accounts, was very much the mastermind behind 9/11.
But whilst Bin Laden's face has long been a symbol in the West for terrorism and fundamentalist Islam, Zawahiri has escaped similar treatment. This means that rather than hide, he is more easily able to melt into Arab cities unnoticed.
Following a failed US missile strike targeting him in Pakistan in 2004, he released a video to Al-Jazeera, jeering: "[President] Bush, do you know where I am? I am among the Muslim masses, enjoying their care with God's blessings".
Bin Laden may be gone, but the real sting in al-Qaeda isn't. Zawahiri now replaces Osama as American’s most wanted man and the CIA will not be happy until he has been hunted down too. ·
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