April 1, 2023

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Bin Laden’s charismatic successor as leader of al-Qaeda

Al-Qaeda’s chief pales in comparison to his predecessor bin Laden, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, whose death was announced by Joe Biden on Monday, theorizing a spin-off without actually curbing jihadist rights.

If he was one of the masterminds behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, “Zawahiri’s greatest achievement was keeping al-Qaeda alive,” says Barack Mendelsohn, a professor at Haverford University in Pennsylvania.

Under al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda became increasingly decentralized, with power primarily in the hands of its subordinates.

But he had to multiply the allegiance of “rights” and situations from the Arabian Peninsula to the Maghreb, from Somalia to Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. And accept that they are liberating little by little.

With a thick beard and large glasses, the theoretician, easily recognizable by the bump on his forehead, joined the Muslim Brotherhood at 15 and survived jihad for more than 40 years, a rare longevity, before dying at 71. In a drone attack.

After being declared dead or dead on several occasions, he recently showed signs of life. According to a UN report released in mid-July, “al-Zawahiri’s apparently increased fluency and ability to communicate coincided with the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.”

Despite his role in al-Qaeda’s signature 2001 attacks, he would never have had the brutal aura of Osama bin Laden.

Ironically, the US offered $25 million to capture him. Until the President of the United States announced his death in person during an “anti-terrorist operation” this weekend.

Born on June 19, 1951, into a bourgeois family in Madi near Cairo — his father a renowned physician and his grandfather a distinguished theologian from the Al-Azhar Mosque in the Egyptian capital –, Ayman al-Zawahiri became. Surgeon.
His convictions were early: he joined the Brotherhood of the Muslim Brotherhood as a teenager.

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He was jailed for three years for his role in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, then traveled to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the mid-1980s, where he treated jihadists fighting the Soviets and met bin Laden.
A long-time leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (JIE), he would not join Al-Qaeda until the late 90s.

In August 1998, the US put him on their “blacklist” for supporting attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He was sentenced to death in Egypt in absentia for several attacks, including in Luxor in 1997. (62 died, including 58 foreign tourists).

In 2002 and 2007, he was declared dead but reappeared. He became bin Laden’s right-hand man and was also his physician. He is “not interested in fighting in the hills. He thinks more internationally”, bin Laden’s biographer Hamid Mir was quoted as saying by the Counter-Terrorism Project (CEP).

With him, in fact, “Al-Qaeda has become more and more decentralized, with power mainly in the hands of the leaders of its affiliates”, adds the CEP, although it has played an important role in reorganizing many jihadist groups. .

Since 2011, he has been living between Pakistan and Afghanistan, limiting his appearances to monotonous sermon videos. Whether he caused his downfall or succeeded in mitigating it, he leaves at least one organization on the opposite side of the jihadist international in the war against America that bin Laden dreamed of.

The following ? Saif al-Adel, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Egyptian special forces and an al-Qaeda old guard figure, is often cited to take the helm. If a younger generation is to be formed.

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Nebula, however, will have to pitch itself against its arch-rival, the Islamic State group, with whom it clashes ideologically and militarily on several predatory grounds.

According to a recent UN assessment, the international environment “favors al-Qaeda, which once again wants to be recognized as the vanguard of global jihad (…) and may eventually pose a major threat”.