The statement which was posted on an Islamist website said: “The general command of al-Qaeda announces, after consultations, the appointment of Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri as head of the group.” Al Qaeda’s new leader is known mostly for his organizational and tactical cunning, but he’s fueled by a deep hatred for the United States and the West, an anger made more personal by the deaths of his wife and two children in a U.S. airstrike following the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.
“We seek with the aid of God to call for the religion of truth and incite our nation to fight … by carrying out jihad against the apostate invaders … with their head being crusader America and its servant Israel, and whoever supports them,” the statement of Al-Qaeda said later.
Ayman Muhammad Rabaie al-Zawahiri was born on June 19, 1951. He is known an Egyptian Islamic theologian, who was previously the second and last “emir” of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, having succeeded Abbud al-Zumar in the latter role when Egyptian authorities sentenced al-Zumar to life imprisonment. He has a $25 million bounty on his head for information leading to his capture.
Al-Zawahiri is reportedly a qualified surgeon; when his organization merged with bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, he became bin Laden’s personal advisor and physician. He had first met bin Laden in Jeddah in 1986. Al- Zawahiri has shown a deep and radical understanding of Islamic theology and Islamic history. He speaks Arabic, English and French. Al-Zawahiri is under worldwide sanctions by the United Nations Security Council 1267 Committee as a member or affiliate of al-Qaeda.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the new chief of al-Qaida lacks some of the characteristics of Osama bin Laden as a terror leader. Gates says bin Laden’s longtime deputy Ayman al-Zawahri (AY’-muhn ahl-ZWAH’-ree) does not have the “peculiar charisma,” nor the operational experience of bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. forces last month.
Gates told a Pentagon press conference Thursday that there’s also suspicion of Zawahri among militants because he is Egyptian. Still, Gates said, the announcement of Zawahri as the terror group’s new leader serves as a reminder that al-Qaida is still out there and must be pursued.
In 1998, al-Zawahiri formally merged the Egyptian Islamic Jihad into al-Qaeda. According to reports by a former al-Qaeda member, he has worked in the al-Qaeda organization since its inception and was a senior member of the group’s shura council. He was often described as a “lieutenant” to Osama bin Laden, though bin Laden’s chosen biographer has referred to him as the “real brains” of al-Qaeda.
The statement of Al-Qaeda also said: “We ask God for this to be a new era for al-Qaeda under the leadership of Ayman Zawahiri, an era that will purify Muslim land of every tyrant and infidel.” Zawahiri was wanted in the U.S. even before the 2001 attacks targeting New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which killed more than 3,000 people.
Zawahiri was accused of absentia in 1999 for the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in which 224 people were killed. He was also considered the brains of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, when 17 sailors were killed.
He has also been blamed for the February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which killed six people, and the December 1997 massacre of 58 tourists in Luxor, Egypt. Zawahiri took responsibility for the July 7, 2005, bombings on London’s transport system when 52 people were killed and which became the city’s deadliest attack since World War II.
Despite Zawahiri’s long position as the number two in Al-Qaeda, many analysts admit his lack of charisma. A US official told FOX News at the time it was “significant that a month after bin Laden’s death, Zawahiri still can’t say that he leads al-Qaeda. It is clear that bin Laden’s number two does not have the succession locked up.” [via The Telegraph (UK), Bloomberg and Herald Sun]