FBI most-wanted al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was killed by a CIA airstrike in Afghanistan over the weekend, helped plan the Sept. 11th terror attacks and was Osama bin Laden’s successor to the terrorist organization who once proclaimed: “To kill Americans … is an individual duty for every Muslim.”
Al-Zawahiri, 71, had been at the helm of the terror group since bin Laden was taken out by Seal Team Six under President Barack Obama in 2011 and his death is the most significant and successful American counterterror operation since ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed under President Donald Trump in 2019.
Born to an upper-middle class family in Egypt, al-Zawahiri was a trained doctor who first got a thirst for terrorism as a teenager growing up outside of Cairo, the Washington Post reported.
At just 15-years-old, he and a group of buddies formed an underground cell dubbed Jamaat al-Jihad, or the Jihad Group, with the goal of overthrowing Egypt’s government for an Islamic theocracy.
In the 1980s, the group hatched a series of plots to kill Egyptian leaders and they’re credited with participating in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in October 1981, the outlet reported.
As a doctor, al-Zawahiri occasionally worked at a clinic sponsored by the Muslim Brotherhood and first met bin Laden when the group brought him to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to tend to refugees who were fighting against the Soviet Union.
He eventually became bin Laden’s primary physician and helped him tend to a series of chronic health issues, including low blood pressure, which helped forge their decades-long friendship.
In 1997, he helped plan an attack against foreign tourists at Luxor, a popular Egyptian tourist destination, that killed 62 people but soon linked up with al Qaeda and turned his sights on the US and Israel when public opinion in Egypt turned against him.
“To kill Americans and their allies — civilian and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in every country in which it is possible to do it,” al-Zawahiri wrote in a 1998 manifesto, according to the outlet.
Three years later, he played a direct role in planning the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks and was in charge of coming up with a series of follow-up attacks. He developed a biological weapons program and sent acolytes out to find lethal strains of anthrax bacteria and scientists who supported their cause.
The plans ultimately failed when US bombers blasted the homes and offices of Al Qaeda’s leaders, including al-Zawahiri’s compound. His wife, Azza Nowair, with whom he had six children, was killed after she became trapped in the rubble and reportedly refused help because she didn’t want men to see her without her veil.
In his later years, al-Zawahiri was rumored to be in bad health and would go long periods without being seen in public.
He struggled to keep up with younger terrorist groups like ISIS and would occasionally release writings that one counterterrorism expert described to the outlet as “unbelievably boring.”
Still, in his final years, al-Zawahiri stayed true to his mission in a video released by a pro-Al Qaeda group in September 2021.
“Just as they have come together from all corners of the world to fight us,” al-Zawahiri said in the clip.
“We must hit them hard everywhere.”