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A Fanatic, With A Difference

He had become an eye surgeon (or ophthalmologist), after earning a Master’s Degree in Surgery. However, he shall always be remembered as one of three leaders of two notorious terror outfits. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (July 28, 1971 – October 27, 2019), the former leader of the Islamic State (ISIS), too, was a brilliant student who had earned a Doctoral Degree in Islamic Studies from Saddam University in Baghdad. After being cornered in a tunnel by the US soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), al-Baghdadi died by self-detonating a suicide vest, killing three young children, reportedly his own, as well. The demise of Egyptian-born Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri (June 19, 1951 – July 31, 2022) is somewhat similar to that of al-Baghdadi.

While some of al-Zawahiri’s family members were doctors, some were academicians, while others had worked in high diplomatic positions. His paternal grand-father Rabia al-Zawahiri was a highly respected and influential person who had served as the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, a mosque and a reputed Cairo-based centre of Islamic learning that still enjoys credibility across the Islamic World. While his great-uncle Abdel Rahman Azzam was the first Secretary of the Arab League, his father was a Professor of Pharmacology at Cairo University. al-Zawahiri had become an ophthalmologist from that university in 1974, and obtained a Master’s Degree in Surgery in 1978.

Courtesy: Hindustan Times

At the age of 15, al-Zawahiri had become a member of the banned outfit, the Muslim Brotherhood, adopting to practices that speak of religious fanaticism. After completing his studies and serving in the Army for three years, he opened a medical clinic in the suburbs of Cairo. al-Zawahiri also joined the Egyptian Islamic Jihad that was formed in 1973 to establish an Islamic Regime, by overthrowing the Egyptian Government. With this, his journey to radicalisation began, it may be said.

At that period of time, Muhammad Anwar el-Sadat (December 25, 1918 – October 6, 1981) was the President of Egypt. On October 6, 1981, Sadat was assassinated during the Annual Victory Parade held in Cairo to celebrate Egypt’s crossing of the Suez Canal. al-Zawahiri, along with several hundred members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, was arrested after the assassination of the President. In spite of his acquittal of Sadat-murder charges, he was jailed for three years for possessing illegal weapons. Later, some fellow inmates revealed that al-Zawahiri was severely tortured in jail. In fact, he transformed himself from a doctor to a fanatic and an extremist in those three years.

Courtesy: Hindustan Times

al-Zawahiri arrived in Saudi Arabia in 1985. He probably met Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden (March 10, 1957 – May 2, 2011) the following year, for the first time. Some historians are of the opinion al-Zawahiri went to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to treat the wounded Mujahideens during the war between Afghanistan and the erstwhile Soviet Union. Laden had not yet formed al-Qaeda. Gradually, al-Zawahiri became one of his close confidants, personal physician and chief adviser.

al-Zawahiri (R) with Laden

Meanwhile, al-Zawahiri became the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad in 1993, and merged the group with al-Qaeda five years later. Almost immediately after the merger in 1998, 224 people died in explosions outside the US embassies in Nairobi (Kenya) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). The US accused al-Zawahiri of triggering those terror attacks. However, al-Qaeda’s worst attacks were yet to take place. The 9/11 happened in 2001, and al-Zawahiri, as well as bin Laden, secured their places in the most wanted list of the US.

Courtesy: Hindustan Times

After 9/11, the US military operation led to the fall of the first Taliban Regime in Afghanistan. It is said that bin Laden and al-Zawahiri were hiding in the war-ravaged South Asian nation at that time. Sometimes, al-Qaeda released their audio or video tapes, and the majority of those videos were of al-Zawahiri’s. The terror outfit released 17 such audio and video tapes of al-Zawahiri in 2007. A top Taliban leader has claimed that al-Zawahiri was living in the remote mountains of Helmand Province during that period. Often, he used to hide near Pak-Afghan border areas. The US carried out a drone attack at a border village, inhabited by Pakistanis, after getting informed about al-Zawahiri’s presence there. Although he managed to survive, 18 villagers perished.

al-Zawahiri was the Number Two leader of al-Qaeda. As expected, he became the head of al-Qaeda after bin Laden was killed in a 2011 US raid in Pakistan. Many are of the opinion that al-Baghdadi’s ISIS surpassed al-Zawahiri’s al-Qaeda in brutality. After surviving a US drone strike in 2006, al-Zawahiri addressed the then President, George W Bush, saying that no one could bring his death forward by one second. However, he was killed on July 31, 2022, shortly after 6am (local time) in an early-morning drone strike conducted by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the upscale Sherpur neighbourhood of Kabul, reportedly in a house owned by Sirajuddin Haqqani, a senior official of the Taliban Government.

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