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Is Zawahiri the successsor to bin Laden?

By Laurie Bennett

May 4, 2011 at 7:54am

With the death of Osama bin Laden, the next in line is Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Zawahiri, 59, is the grandson of a prominent Egyptian, Abdul Wahhab Azzam, who founded King Saud University, was president of Cairo University and served as ambassador to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

He is a doctor who served with the Egyptian Army and the Red Crescent Society before founding a terrorist group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, to fight Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

After his arrest by Mubarak’s forces in 1981, he was beaten, tortured and sentenced to three years in prison.

JAyman al-Zawahiri
Ayman al-Zawahiri

It’s uncertain precisely when Zawahiri and bin Laden joined forces.

But as Lawrence Wright notes in The Looming Tower, the two men shared common views and complimentary needs: “Zawahiri wanted money and contacts, which bin Laden had in abundance. Bin Laden, an idealist given to causes, sought direction: Zawahiri, a seasoned propagandist, supplied it.”

The two men weren’t friends, but allies, says Wright. “Each believed he could use the other, and each was pulled in a direction he never intended to go.”

Federal authorities believe Egyptian Islamic Jihad merged with Al Qaeda in 1998. That was the year that the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed, killing at least 190 people and wounding thousands.

Zawahiri was indicted in connection with the bombings but has never been apprehended.

Investigators are combing the computer disk drives and other materials seized at bin Laden’s Pakistan compound for clues to Zawahiri’s whereabouts.

Officials have said they believe he is hiding in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The federal government is offering a reward of up to $25 million for information leading to his arrest and/or conviction.

In his 2008 book, “Exoneration,” Zawahiri leaves no doubt about his intentions. He endorses the use of nuclear weapons as retaliation - “repaying like for like.”

As former CIA intelligence officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen wrote last year in Foreign Policy: “Zawahiri is a man of action, not contemplation, and his tone leaves little question that he believes the West has not yet been exonerated for its crimes. And like bin Laden in 1998, Zawahiri is not only a cleric but an operational planner - we can be assured that he is planning al Qaeda’s redemption by means of the terrible weapons he champions.”

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