In the footsteps of Al-Zawahiri: the radicalisation of a Muslim Brotherhood

At the age of 15, he was arrested for taking part in and supporting the activities of the radical fraternity of the Muslim Brotherhood

Hamid Mir/Editor/Ausaf Newspaper for Daily Dawn via REUTERS  -   Osama bin Laden sitting with his adviser Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian linked to the Al-Qaeda network

US has eliminated Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The world breathes. Al-Zawahiri, one of the most wanted terrorists in recent years and the driving force behind the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation, is burning in the flames of hell. 

Last weekend the US Special Forces successfully repeated the operation that once took the life of al-Qaeda terrorist organisation leader Osama bin Laden (1957-2011). 

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the successor to the mastermind of the 9/11 attack on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people, was killed at the age of 71 in the safe house where he had been staying since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. 

From the country's capital, Kabul, the terrorist, with a bushy white beard as befits the passage of time and the burden of thousands of lives taken, continued to lead the organisation, which seemed to recover from the hard blows that have kept it in the background over the years against the Islamic State - Daesh for its acronym in Arabic - by broadcasting propaganda videos focused on the cause of Palestine, the 'global jihad' and inspiring other terrorist groups. 

PHOTO/AFP - In this file image provided by SITE Intelligence Group, Ayman al-Zawahiri is seen praising fellow Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a video posted on jihadist forums on June 8, 2011
The profile of the most wanted terrorist: who was al-Zawahiri?

Born in Egypt on 19 June 1951, Al-Zawahiri graduated with a doctorate in medicine (1974), thus continuing the history of his family saga. In fact, his father was a professor of pharmacology at Cairo University (Egypt), his grandfather a grand imam at Al-Azhar, the centre of Sunni Islamic learning in the Middle East, and one of his uncles was first secretary general of the Arab League.

In a secular Egypt, Al-Zawahiri was arrested at the age of 15 for belonging to an organisation internationally known as the radical Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. 

It was the 1960s and the propaganda of the Muslim Brotherhood's founder, Sayyid Qutub, permeated the young Al-Zawahiri's developing personality and society. 

The pyramidal structure of the Muslim Brotherhood has some peculiarities, including the fact that it reaches the social strata and needs that the state has no capacity or intention to penetrate, such as culture, education and economic support for the most disadvantaged classes. 

AFP PHOTO/EGYPTIAN PRESIDENCY - This file photo taken on August 14, 2013 shows a supporter of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi (portrait) shouting pro-Islamist slogans.

During those years Qutub would publish the manifesto that Al-Zawahiri would vehemently defend until the end of his days 'Milestones' in which he stated that, "The West has lost its vitality and Marxism has failed. At this crucial and perplexing juncture, the time has come for Islam and the Muslim community'. 

In this view, al-Zawahiri evolved from adolescence to adulthood as a radical Islamist. In fact, a year before graduating in 1973, he became the founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ). This was an organisation opposed to Egypt's secular government, which sought its overthrow by violent means. Al-Zawahiri's fanaticism claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Egyptians during the 1990s. 

However, although his political activities continued over time, Al-Zawahiri specialised in eye surgery in 1978. During this period he kept a low profile with regard to his demands. In fact, he even opened a clinic in the crowded capital of Cairo. 

AFP/AFP - Perfil del líder de Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, uno de los terroristas más buscados del mundo, muerto en un ataque de un avión no tripulado estadounidense en Kabul el 31 de julio, según las autoridades estadounidenses
AFP/AFP - Profile of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the world's most wanted terrorists, killed in a US drone strike in Kabul on 31 July, according to US officials.

A short-lived period before his life took a U-turn, abandoning his career and family to become a nomad of terror.

According to the American writer Thomas Wright, in his book 'The Years of Terror', Al-Zawahiri was an intelligent, shy, but strong-willed man with a firm conviction that Arabs could only be ruled by their contemporaries following the most radical interpretations of Islam.

In 1981, al-Zawahiri was arrested again, accused of involvement in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat during a military parade. During the trial, he addressed the Egyptian public that "we are Muslims who believe in our religion. Our intention is to establish an Islamic state and an Islamic society". Although he was eventually acquitted of involvement in Sadat's assassination, he did serve three years for illegal possession of weapons. The period he spent in prison eventually forged the personality and mind of a true terrorist. His radicalisation was completed behind the bars of a tiny cell and during the recurrent torture he allegedly received in prison. After his release, Al-Zawahiri was a different person. 

In 1985 he moved to Saudi Arabia, where he made his first contacts with Osama bin Laden's movement and ideology. He then travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan where he consolidated ISIS. During that period of Soviet occupation, he also worked as a doctor in the country. 

In 1998, the ISIS, led by al-Zawahiri, merged with al-Qaeda. With the skills and knowledge he possessed, coupled with the firm conviction that the creation of an Islamic state was possible, he quickly became the right-hand man of the Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden. The most wanted man in the world. 

In addition to being considered a planner of the 9/11 attacks, Al-Zawahiri is also credited with other major terrorist attacks, including a 1998 attack on the US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. The attack on the USS Cole in Yemen and others on European soil such as the 11-M attack in Madrid, Spain, which killed 193 people, and the attack in London a year later, which killed 52. 

After Bin Laden's death, his number two, Al-Zawahiri, became the leader of the terrorist organisation. At the time, the FBI offered up to $25 million (24.54 million euros) as a reward for information leading directly to the arrest or conviction of Ayman al-Zawahiri. However, it has taken 11 years to track down his true whereabouts. 

AFP/AFP - Map of Kabul, Afghanistan, showing the Sherpur area where a US drone strike on 31 July killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The operation led by Biden

The al-Qaeda leader was killed in a White House-led drone strike, US President Joe Biden confirmed hours after the operation ended: "Justice has been served". Biden's statement made it clear to the public that Afghanistan will not become a safe haven for terrorists. 

According to the US president, the US intelligence community located al-Zawahiri earlier this year in a residential area of Kabul traditionally inhabited by Westerners who fled the country after the arrival of the Taliban. There he cohabited with members of his own family, including his wife, children and grandchildren, after years of living an uncertain and nomadic life, despite the fact that under the 2020 agreement between the US and the Taliban regime, the organisation pledged not to allow al-Qaeda to operate in areas under its control. Again, another broken commitment by the executioners who today run a silenced and terrified country. 

During months of research and identification of each of his family members, the intelligence services began to detect repetitive patterns of behaviour of the terrorist, who was killed while standing on the balcony of his luxurious home, where he was usually seen. 

There were no civilian casualties in the operation. The precision of the attack, which took place in the early hours of Saturday-Sunday morning on 30 July at 6:18 local time, was impeccable. Two Hellfire missiles were fired at the balcony of the safe house. Al-Zawahiri was killed instantly while the areas around the house were found intact. There was little evidence of an attack beyond the damage to the balcony.  

PHOTO/JIM WATSON via REUTERS - US President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the death of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a US drone strike

Hellfire air-to-ground missiles are typically guided by a high-precision laser strike, according to the US Army Acquisition Support Center (USAASC). Specifically, the model that killed Al-Zawahiri could be the Hellfire RFX, which has the ability to deploy a series of blades from its fuselage and kill the enemy on impact. 

As The Wall Street Journal accurately details, such missiles have "a halo of six long blades that are stored inside" to deploy through the skin of the missile seconds before impact, with the aim of ensuring that it shreds "anything in its tracks".

Subsequently, the Taliban, in a bid to defend what has been one of the biggest blows to the organisation and exposed a major security breach within it, continue to monitor the passage through the bombed area and even prevent the press from approaching the site, according to BBC correspondent Secunder Kermani.

AFP/KHALED DESOUKI - File photo, Egyptian radical Islamist Mohammed al-Zawahiri, brother of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, sits in the defendants' cage during his trial with 68 other defendants in Cairo on August 3, 2014. Mohammed al-Zawahiri is accused of forming and managing an Al-Qaeda-linked organisation.

The success of the operation, which was months in the making and in which Joe Biden was actively involved, has come at a turning point for his government. 

The president, suffering from COVID-19, took part in the security and planning meetings for the attack, which he gave the go-ahead for on 25 July. After the success of the operation, he had his moment of glory in the media, which has been extremely critical of him. 

Indeed, after months of questioning his ability to govern, Biden is finally on a roll. After presenting the country's ambitious environmental plan and the strategic challenge to China, Biden needed a coup with international impact, and what better publicity than to end the life of the most wanted terrorist to date. Incidentally, a feat that was also accomplished at a time of crisis by Democratic President Barack Obama, who 'scored' the coup of executing Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad (Pakistan). 

Al-Zawahiri succession

Al-Qaeda is now desperately seeking a new leader. Among the most prominent names are Egypt's Saif al-Adel, who, according to experts, has enough support to be one of the preferred candidates despite the fact that his business connections with Iran could be a handicap for the organisation, and Abderrahmane al-Maghrebi, Al-Zawahiri's son-in-law. 

The name of the Iran-based terrorist Saif al-Adl al-Masry, nicknamed "Sword of Vengeance", resurfaced as a possible successor to Al-Zawahiri in the leadership of Al-Qaeda.

Of Moroccan origin, this Al-Qaeda member, popularly known as Mohamed Abattay, was in charge of Al-Qaeda's media and propaganda arm and is currently the head of the terrorist organisation's branch in Iran, according to the Moroccan daily, Al Ahdath Al Maghribia. He was also responsible for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2012. Known as the 'Al-Qaeda fox', he managed to elude US intelligence services and was even considered dead for years. However, whatever the decision, in the coming days the organisation will make it known who is finally the successor to one of the most vicious terrorists of the last decades, Ayman al-Zawahiri.