The Egyptian-born doctor Ayman al Zawahiri has officially succeeded Osama bin Laden as the head of al Qaeda.
A statement posted on the Ansar al Mujahideen website read: “The general leadership of al Qaeda group after the completion of consultation, announces that Sheikh Dr Ayman Zawahiri, may God give him success, has assumed responsibility for command of the group.” Loosely-sourced news reports pointed to military commander Sayf al Adl as the new head of al Qaeda after Bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad on May 2.
Al Zawahiri was a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and among those arrested in a crackdown after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981. His long-term association with Bin Laden made him known as ‘al Qaeda’s number two’. He was indicted for his role in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the US government is offering a $25 million reward for information on his whereabouts.
The US State Department on Thursday said it “barely matters” who the new leader of al Qaeda is after reports that Ayman al Zawahri replaced Osama bin Laden. “Frankly, it barely matters who runs al Qaeda because al Qaeda is a bankrupt ideology,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said at her daily briefing without commenting on the credibility of the reports.
Al Zawahiri, who was born in 1951, first travelled to Peshawar in 1980 and served as a doctor with the Red Crescent Society during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Since 2001, al Zawahiri has issued a number of statements focusing on al Qaeda and news developments. The most recent included a eulogy for Bin Laden and praise of the protests in the Middle East. He has repeatedly criticised Pakistan’s political leadership and in 2007, he said the Lal Masjid siege had “revealed the extent of the despicableness, lowliness and treason of Musharraf and his forces”.
Zawahri has expressed contempt for the US-backed Pakistani government. In recordings posted on the Internet he has urged Pakistanis to revolt against their government and army. Like other militants, he sees Pakistan as a US puppet.
In an audio recording, released in September last year, he accused the Pakistani government of responding too slowly to floods that devastated the country.
“The primary concern of the ruling class in the government and army of Pakistan is filling their domestic and foreign bank accounts with dollars, and as far as they are concerned, Pakistan and its people can go to hell,” he said.
‘Capable Person’: Tehreek-i-Taliban backs Zawahiri
Pakistan’s Taliban movement said on Thursday it backed Ayman al Zawahiri as al Qaeda’s new leader and vowed to carry out attacks against Western targets.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan described Zawahiri as a “capable person” and said the former Egyptian doctor would inspire the group to take on the West.
“We have been carrying out our activities which, inshallah (God willing), will gather more momentum. We will get revenge for the oppression by the West,” he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Zawahiri’s relationship with groups like the TTP could determine whether the man regarded as the operational brains behind al Qaeda can strengthen an organisation that has lost steam since the Sept. 11 attacks a decade ago.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2011.