He offered Iran information about an Egyptian government plan to storm several islands in the Persian Gulf that both Iran and the United Arab Emirates lay claim to. According to Mohammed, in return for this information, the Iranian government paid Zawahiri $2 million and helped train members of al-Jihad in a coup attempt that never actually took place.
Ayman al-Zawahiri was born in 1951 in the neighborhood of Maadi, Cairo, the Kingdom of Egypt, to Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri and Umayma Azzam.
In 1978, al-Zawahiri married his first wife, Azza Ahmed Nowari, a student at Cairo University who was studying philosophy. Their wedding, which was held at the Continental Hotel in Opera Square, was very conservative, with separate areas for both men and women, and no music, photographs, or light-hearted humour. Many years later, when the United States attacked Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks in October 2001, Azza apparently had no idea that al-Zawahiri had supposedly been a jihadi emir (commander) for the last decade. In June 2012, one of Zawahiri's four wives, Umaima Hassan, released a statement on the internet congratulating the role played by Muslim women in the Arab Spring.
In his book, Al-Zawahiri as I Knew Him, Al-Zayat maintains that under torture by the Egyptian police, following his arrest in connection with the murder of Sadat in 1981, Al-Zawahiri revealed the hiding place of Essam al-Qamari, a key member of the Maadi cell of al-Jihad, which led to Al-Qamari's "arrest and eventual execution."
Al-Zawahiri was convicted of dealing in weapons and received a three-year sentence, which he completed in 1984, shortly after his conviction.
Ayman al-Zawahiri worked in the medical field as a surgeon. In 1985, al-Zawahiri went to Saudi Arabia on Hajj and stayed to practice Medicine in Jeddah for a year. As a reportedly 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.
Former FBI agent Ali Soufan mentioned in his book The Black Banners that Ayman al-Zawahiri is suspected of being behind Azzam's assassination in 1989.
Zawahiri has allegedly worked with the Islamic Republic of Iran on behalf of al-Qaeda. Lawrence Wright reports that EIJ operative Ali Mohammed "told the FBI that al-Jihad had planned a coup in Egypt in 1990." Zawahiri had studied the 1979 Islamist Islamic Revolution and "sought training from the Iranians" as to how to duplicate their feat against the Egyptian government.
In Peshwar, al-Zawahiri is thought to have become radicalized by other Al-Jihad members, abandoning his old strategy of a swift coup d'état to change society from above, and embracing the idea of takfir. In 1991, EIJ broke with al-Zumur, and al-Zawahiri grabbed "the reins of power" to become EIJ leader.
In 1993, al-Zawahiri's and Egyptian Islamic Jihad's (EIJ) connection with Iran may have led to a suicide bombing in an attempt on the life of Egyptian Interior Minister Hasan al-Alfi, the man heading the effort to quash the campaign of Islamist killings in Egypt. It failed, as did an attempt to assassinate Egyptian prime minister Atef Sidqi three months later. The bombing of Sidqi's car injured 21 Egyptians and killed a schoolgirl, Shayma Abdel-Halim. It followed two years of killings by another Islamist group, al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, that had killed over 200 people. Her funeral became a public spectacle, with her coffin carried through the streets of Cairo and crowds shouting, "Terrorism is the enemy of God!" The police arrested 280 more of al-Jihad's members and executed six.
There have been doubts as to the true nature of al-Zawahiri's encounter with the Russians in 1996. Washington, D.C.-based Jamestown Foundation scholar Evgenii Novikov has argued that it seems unlikely that the Russians would not have been able to determine who he was, given their well-trained Arabists and the obviously suspicious act of Muslims crossing illegally a border with multiple false identities and encrypted documents in Arabic. Assassinated former FSB secret Service officer Alexander Litvinenko alleged, among other things, that during this time, al-Zawahiri was indeed being trained by the FSB, and that he was not the only link between al-Qaeda and the FSB. Former KGB officer, speaker on the Voice of America and Writer Konstantin Preobrazhenskiy supported Litvinenko's claim and said that Litvinenko "was responsible for securing the secrecy of Al-Zawahiri's arrival in Russia, who was trained by FSB instructors in Dagestan, Northern Caucasus, during 1996–1997."
Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri organized an al-Qaeda congress on June 24, 1998. A week prior to the beginning of the conference, a group of well-armed assistants to al-Zawahiri had left by jeeps in the direction of Herat. Following the instructions of their patron, in the town of Koh-i-Doshakh they met three unknown Slavic-looking men who had arrived from Russia via Iran. After their arrival in Kandahar, they split up. One of the Russians was directly escorted to al-Zawahiri and he did not participate in the conference. Western military intelligence succeeded in acquiring photographs of him, but he disappeared for six years. According to Axis Globe, in 2004, when Qatar and U.S. investigated Russian embassy officials whom the United Arab Emirates had arrested in connection to the murder of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in Qatar, computer software precisely established that a man who had walked to the Russian embassy in Doha was the same one who visited al-Zawahiri prior to the Al-Qaida conference.
The massacre was so unpopular that no terror attacks occurred in Egypt for several years thereafter. Zawahiri was sentenced to death in absentia in 1999 by an Egyptian military tribunal.
In 2000, the USS Cole bombing encouraged several members to depart. Mohammed Atef went to escape Kandahar, Zawahiri to Kabul, and Bin Laden fled to Kabul, later joining Atef when he realised no American reprisal attacks were forthcoming.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri (2001) in Knights Under the Prophet's Banner which was released by Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.
Following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, al-Zawahiri's whereabouts are unknown, but he is generally thought to be in tribal Pakistan. Although he releases videos of himself frequently (see Messages of Ayman al-Zawahiri), al-Zawahiri did not appear alongside bin Laden in any of them after 2003. In 2003, it was rumored that he was under arrest in Iran, although this was later discovered to be false. In 2004, the Pakistan Army launched an aggressive operation in Wana, Pakistan. Reports began to surface that he was trapped in the center of the conflict by the army. But when, after weeks of fighting, the army captured the area, it was later revealed that he either escaped or was never among the fighters. As the conflict spread into the tribal areas of western Pakistan, Ayman al-Zawahiri became a prime target of the ISI's Directorate for Joint Counterintelligence Bureau (J-COIN Bureau). However, despite a series of operations they were unable to capture him.
In the first half of 2005, one of Al-Zawahiri's three surviving wives gave birth to a daughter, named Nawwar.
On January 13, 2006, the Central Intelligence Agency, aided by Pakistan's ISI, launched an airstrike on Damadola, a Pakistani village near the Afghan border where they believed al-Zawahiri was located. The airstrike was supposed to kill al-Zawahiri and this was reported in international news over the following days. Many victims of the airstrike were buried without being identified. Anonymous U.S. government officials claimed that some terrorists were killed and the Bajaur tribal area government confirmed that at least four terrorists were among the dead. Anti-American protests broke out around the country and the Pakistani government condemned the U.S. attack and the loss of innocent life. On January 30, a new video was released showing al-Zawahiri unhurt. The video discussed the airstrike, but did not reveal if al-Zawahiri was present in the village at that time.
In mid-December 2007, al-Zawahiri's spokespeople announced plans for an "open interview" on a handful of Islamic Web sites. The administrators of 4 known jihadist web sites have been authorized to collect and forward questions, "unedited", they pledge, and "regardless of whether they are in support of or are against" al-Qaeda, which would be forwarded to al-Zawahiri on January 16. al-Zawahiri responded to the questions later in 2008; among the things he said were that al-Qaeda didn't kill innocents, and that al-Qaeda would move to target Israel "after expelling the occupier from Iraq".
On April 30, 2009, the U.S. State Department reported that al-Zawahiri had emerged as al-Qaeda's operational and strategic commander and that Osama bin Laden was now only the ideological figurehead of the organization. However, after the 2011 death of Osama, a senior U.S. intelligence official was quoted as saying intelligence gathered in the raid showed that bin Laden remained deeply involved in planning: “This compound (where bin Laden was killed) in Abbottabad was an active command-and-control center for al-Qaeda’s leader. He was active in operational planning and in driving tactical decisions within al-Qaeda.”
As of May 2, 2011, he became the leader of al-Qaeda following the death of Osama bin Laden. This was confirmed by a press release from al-Qaeda's general command on June 16. al-Zawahiri's succession to command of al-Qaeda was announced on several of their websites on June 16, 2011. On the same day, al-Qaeda renewed its position that Israel was an illegitimate state and that it wouldn't accept any compromise on Palestine.
In June 2013, al-Zawahiri arbitrated against the merger of the Islamic State of Iraq with the Syrian-based Jabhat al-Nusra into Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as was declared in April by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Abu Mohammad al-Julani, leader of al-Nusra Front, affirmed the group's allegiance to al-Qaeda and al-Zawahiri.
Ayman al-Zawahiri was reportedly a studious youth. Ayman excelled in school, loved poetry, and "hated violent sports" —which he thought were "inhumane." Al-Zawahiri studied Medicine at Cairo University and graduated in 1974 with gayyid giddan. Following that he served three years as a surgeon in the Egyptian Army after which he established a clinic near his parents in Maadi. In 1978, he also earned a master's degree in surgery. Ayman al-Zawahiri has also shown a radical understanding of Islamic theology and Islamic history. He speaks Arabic, English, and French.
Ayman al-Zawahiri released a statement supporting jihad in Xinjiang against Chinese, jihad in the Caucasus against the Russians and naming Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan as battlegrounds. Zawahiri endorsed "jihad to liberate every span of land of the Muslims that has been usurped and violated, from Kashgar to Andalusia, and from the Caucasus to Somalia and Central Africa". Uyghurs inhabit Kashgar, the city which was mentioned by Zawahiri. In another statement he said, "My mujahideen brothers in all places and of all groups ... we face aggression from America, Europe, and Russia ... so it's up to us to stand together as one from East Turkestan to Morocco". In 2015 the Turkistan Islamic Party (East Turkistan Islamic Movement) released an image showing Al Qaeda Leaders Ayman al Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden meeting with Hasan Mahsum.