Zawahiri, Ayman al-

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Zawahiri, Ayman al-

Ayman al- Zawahiri (both: ī´män äl-zäwä´rē), 1951–, militant Egyptian Islamist. A surgeon by education and training, he became involved with the Muslim Brotherhood and joined the Egyptian Islamic Jihad after it was founded in 1973. Arrested in connection with the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, he was imprisoned for three years on weapons charges. In the late 1980s he worked as a doctor with the Red Crescent in Pakistan, treating wounded mujahidin from Afghanistan. Based in Sudan from 1992 to 1996, he became head (1993) of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which conducted an Islamist terror campaign against the Egyptian government in the mid-1990s and for which Zawahiri was sentenced (1999) to death in absentia.

By the late 1990s Zawahiri was in Afghanistan again and had established an alliance with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. He became second-in-command in Al Qaeda, the group's chief ideologist, and a leader in its planning of terror attacks. On the run after the Al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, he replaced bin Laden as the principal public face and voice of Al Qaeda and is believed to be in hiding in Pakistan. After bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in 2011, Zawahiri became Al Qaeda's leader.

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