Published On: Tue, Aug 2nd, 2022

Who was Al Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastsermind Ayman Al-Zawahiri?

Called a mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the leader of Al Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri has been one of the most sought-after people by the U.S. for over two decades.

The Egyptian-born al-Zawahiri, a trained surgeon, was Osama bin Laden’s No. 2 and took over Al Qaeda after bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid in 2011.

He played a crucial role in the planning of the Sept. 11 attacks; he was indicted in absentia for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people; and he is believed to have plotted the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors.

Ayman al-Zawahiri gives a eulogy for slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in this image obtained on June 8, 2011.
Ayman al-Zawahiri gives a eulogy for slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in this image obtained on June 8, 2011.AFP via Getty Images

The FBI listed him as one of its most wanted terrorist in the world, and a $25 million reward was offered for information.

On Saturday al-Zawahiri, 71, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Kabul, Afghanistan, President Joe Biden announced Monday.

“Now, justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said.

Al-Zawahiri was born to a politically connected family in Cairo and got degrees in medicine and surgery before joining the Egyptian Islamic Jihad in 1979.

He came to international attention in 1981 when he was charged in a plot to assassinate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He accused jailers of torture and was sentenced to three years in prison.

After he was released in 1984, he went to Afghanistan as the fight against the Soviet Union was at its height, and then Pakistan, where he met bin Laden.

In 1998 al-Zawahiri merged his Islamic Jihad with bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, becoming bin Laden’s deputy and chief Islamic ideologist. That same year, bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and others issued a declaration in which they called for Americans to be killed all over the world.

Biden said al- Zawahiri “carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members, American diplomats, and American interests.”

But Zawahiri’s violence was not limited to Americans. He was a leading figure in a campaign to overthrow Egypt’s government in the 1990s that left more than 1,200 Egyptians dead, Reuters reported.

The group tried to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Ethiopia in 1995 but failed. But it bombed Egypt’s embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, that year, killing 16 people as well as the two bombers.

“This is an individual, Zawahiri, who has been involved in terrorist activities for the past 40 years,” John Brennan, former CIA director, said Monday on MSNBC where he is an analyst.

Al-Zawahiri survived four attempts to kill or capture him from 2001 to 2007, NBC News has reported.

He was targeted twice during fighting at Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in 2001; in 2006, Hellfire missiles were fired at a location in Pakistan where he was thought to be but Zawahiri released a video showing he was alive; and in 2007 there was an assault at Tora Bora looking for him but he was not found.

It was a CIA drone strike that killed al-Zawahiri, two people briefed on the matter told NBC News.

In 2020, there had been rumors that Al-Zawahiri was dead after no video or proof of life had surfaced, but a video was released in September of 2021, and again in April and May, The Associated Press reported at the time.

Biden said that U.S. intelligence located al-Zawahiri earlier this year, and that the Al Qaeda leader had moved to downtown Kabul to reunite with family members.

Biden said that he authorized a strike to kill him. None of al-Zawahiri’s family members or any other civilians were hurt, Biden said.

Two Hellfire missiles were fired at al-Zawahiri while he was on the balcony of the safe house, a senior administration official said.

The deadly airstrike happened almost a year after the U.S. completed a military withdrawal from Afghanistan following a more than 20-year war.

John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, said Monday night that the U.S. knew Al Qaeda was re-establishing a presence in Afghanistan but was going to continue to watch for threats.

“Mr. Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul certainly met that test, because he has been active in planning and plotting threats against our homeland going forward,” Kirby said on MSNBC.

The Sept. 11 attacks killed 2,977 people, including 343 New York City firefighters, 23 NYPD officers and 37 port authority police.

Andrew Ansbro, president of the firefighters union the FDNY-Uniformed Firefighters Association, said an additional 290 firefighters have also died of 9/11-related illnesses.

“This action by the United States is a reminder to each and every terrorist involved in the plotting of these attacks that the American people will Never Forget,” he said in a statement.

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