Skip to main content /US /US

Authorities target bin Laden's second-in-command

Ayman al-Zawahiri
Ayman al-Zawahiri  

By Mike Boettcher

(CNN) -- If Osama bin Laden is now America's Public Enemy No. 1, then Ayman al-Zawahiri may now be Public Enemy No. 2.

This week, Interpol issued an arrest warrant for al-Zawahiri, the man who has bin Laden's ear. He is already wanted by the United States for his alleged role in the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

"Ayman al-Zawahiri is effectively Osama bin Laden's number two," CNN terrorism expert Peter Bergen said. "He is his closest advisor. They have known each other since 1987."

Attack on America
 CNN NewsPass Video 
Agencies reportedly got hijack tips in 1998
Intelligence intercept led to Buffalo suspects
Report cites warnings before 9/11
Timeline: Who Knew What and When?
Interactive: Terror Investigation
Terror Warnings System
Most wanted terrorists
What looks suspicious?
In-Depth: America Remembers
In-Depth: Terror on Tape
In-Depth: How prepared is your city?
On the Scene: Barbara Starr: Al Qaeda hunt expands?
On the Scene: Peter Bergen: Getting al Qaeda to talk

Believed, at least until recently, to be in Afghanistan, al-Zawahiri is also wanted in his native Egypt. Even before he met bin Laden in Pakistan in 1987, al-Zawahiri led what the United States and Egypt said was a terrorist group.

Now a 50-year-old surgeon, al-Zawahiri was a medical student from a well-to-do family in Cairo when he was first arrested and charged with being part of a Moslem Brotherhood plot to overthrow then President Nasser.

When Anwar Sadat took over as Egypt's president, al-Zawahiri worked to overthrow Sadat and establish an Islamic state, says Dia'a Rashwan, a specialist in Islamic movements.

After Sadat moved from war with Israel to peace, members of al-Zawahiri's group -- Islamic Jihad -- assassinated Sadat. In the wake of that assassination, al-Zawahiri was put on trial in 1981 as defendant No. 113, accused of being part of the broader conspiracy against the Egyptian state.

Ties to Islamic Jihad

Al-Zawahiri was convicted for his role in the conspiracy and served three years in prison. He surfaced in 1987 in Peshawar, Pakistan, doctoring to those wounded in the fight against Afghanistan's Soviet-backed regime.

That's where he first met bin Laden, who was leading a group of Moslems from around the world in the fight against the Soviets.

The Islamic Jihad continued a violent campaign against the Egyptian government, blowing up its embassy in Pakistan in 1995 and trying to assassinate several leading Egyptian politicians.

Ali Mohamed, a fellow Egyptian and member of Islamic Jihad living in the United States, testified al-Zawihiri actually visited the United States twice on fundraising trips in the early 1990s.

"I think Ayman al-Zawahiri was very much affected by bin Laden's idea of the struggle against international enemies of Islam," Rashwan said.

In early 1998, bin Laden and al-Zawahiri appeared together in Afghanistan to announce a fatwa, a decree, calling for a jihad (holy war) against Jews and "Crusaders." It called on Moslems worldwide "to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military."

"The relationship of the Jihad group and al Qaeda is essentially [that] they are the same organization," Bergen said. "They have cooperated for a number of years. The U.S. government says they merged in 1998, but [they had] effectively merged years before that."

'Profound influence' on bin Laden

On August 6, 1998, a fax from al-Zawahiri's group was sent to an Egyptian newspaper warning that the Islamic Jihad was seeking revenge against America for the arrest of several of its members. A day later, suicide bombers attacked the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Al-Zawahiri and bin Laden were indicted by the United States for ordering the attacks.

"Ayman al-Zawahiri's influence on bin Laden has been profound," CNN's Bergen said. "According to a number of people who know both men, he helped him become more radical, more anti-American and more violent."

Days after the embassy bombings, al-Zawahiri -- considered media savvy -- phoned a Pakistani journalist. Saying he was speaking on bin Laden's behalf, al-Zawahiri denied responsibility for the attack, but urged Muslims all over the world to "continue their jihad against the Americans and Jews."

An hour later, the United States launched cruise missiles in retaliation. Both bin Laden and al-Zawahiri escaped injury.

Within weeks, there was another alleged plot by al-Zawahiri's group, this time to bomb the U.S. embassy in Albania. But the attack was prevented and more than a hundred members of Islamic Jihad were rounded up and put on trial by the Egyptian government. Al-Zawahiri was convicted and sentenced to death in absentia.

Now, in the wake of the Trade Center attacks, the Bush Administration has pointed the finger not only at al Qaeda and bin Laden, but also at Islamic Jihad and al-Zawahiri.


See related sites about US
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.



Back to the top