Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who sources say was killed by a US drone strike, Zawahiri had remained a visible international symbol of the group – 11 years after the US killed Osama bin Laden.
At one time he acted as bin Laden’s personal physician.
Zawahiri comes from a distinguished Egyptian family, according to The New York Times. He eventually helped stage the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, when hijackers turned American airliners into missiles.
“Those 19 brothers who went out and gave their souls to Almighty Allah, Almighty God granted them this victory which we now enjoy,” al-Zawahiri said in a video message released in April 2002.
It was the first of many provocative messages the terrorist – who became leader of al-Qaeda after US forces killed Bin Laden in 2011 – would send over the years, urging activists to continue the fight against the America and berating American leaders.
Zawahiri was constantly on the move once the US-led invasion of Afghanistan began after the September 11, 2001 attacks. At one point, he narrowly escaped a US attack in the rugged region and mountain range of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, an attack that killed his wife and children.
He made his public debut as a Muslim activist while in prison for his involvement in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
He spent three years in prison after Sadat’s assassination and claimed to have been tortured while in custody. After his release, he traveled to Pakistan, where he treated wounded mujahideen fighters who fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
It was then that he met Bin Laden and found common cause.
“We work with brother bin Laden,” he said when announcing the merger of his terror group, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, with al-Qaeda in May 1998. “We have known him for over 10 years now. we fought with him here in Afghanistan.”
Together, the two terrorist leaders signed a fatwa, or declaration: “The judgment to kill and fight Americans and their allies, whether civilian or military, is an obligation for every Muslim.”
Attacks on the United States and its facilities began weeks later, with the suicide bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200 people and injured more than 5,000 others. Zawahiri and bin Laden gloated after escaping a US cruise missile attack in Afghanistan that was launched in retaliation.
Then there was the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000, when suicide bombers on a dinghy blew up their boat, killing 17 American sailors and injuring 39 others.
The culmination of Zawahiri’s terror plot came on September 11, 2001, when nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked airliner, bound for Washington, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers returned fire.
Since then, Zawahiri has raised his public profile, appearing on numerous video and audio tapes to urge Muslims to join jihad against the United States and its allies. Some of his bands have been closely followed by terrorist attacks. In May 2003, for example, near-simultaneous suicide bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killed 23 people, including nine Americans, days after a tape allegedly containing Zawahiri’s voice was released.
The US State Department had offered a reward of up to $25 million for information leading directly to his capture. A June 2021 United Nations report suggested it was somewhere in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and may be too fragile to be featured in propaganda.
Learn more about Zawahiri here.