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Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri

Born: June 19, 1951
Died: n/a

Have you heard of Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri? You may have, and if you want to know more about the state of Islamic terrorism today, it is important to be familiar with his name. Al-Zawahiri was the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group which he merged with Osama bin-Laden's al-Queda group to create the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders.

Today he is Osama bin Laden's second-in-command, serves as al Queda's ideological leader, and is the most likely to take over when bin Laden dies. Some, in fact, argue that bin Laden never would have been quite the terrorist leader without al-Zawahiri.

Born in 1953, al-Zawahiri's family was quite prominent and religiously conservative. He is remembered has having been a quiet and well-read student, but that may have changed in 1967, when Israel defeated the combined armies of several Arab nations. This was a watershed time for many Muslims in the Middle East, and al-Zawahiri was no different. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood at the age of just fourteen, and in 1979, he joined the even more radical Islamic Jihad.

Eventually al-Zawahiri became one of the group's principle leaders and was active in recruiting new members into its underground, anti-government operations. After the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, however, the government cracked down even harder on religious extremists, and al-Zawahiri was one of hundreds who were arrested. He could not be directly linked to the assassination, but he was convicted on weapons charges and sentenced to three years in prison. During this time he was beaten and tortured, experiences which only further radicalized him.

After his release al-Zawahiri tried to return to medicine again, but the political climate was unwelcoming to a radical such as himself and he eventually fled to Afghanistan, which had by that point become a gathering point for Muslim radicals from all over the world. There he was able to put his medical skills to work by treating Arab fighters wounded in combat against the Soviet army. It was at this time that an interesting personal connection was made: al-Zawahiri met Dr. Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian Islamist who had once been an instructor for Osama bin Laden at the King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia.

After the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, al-Zawahiri returned to Egypt - now more radical than ever and, like other Arab fighters, having learned how to use force and violence to create an Islamic state. Throughout the 1990s he was responsible for organizing and bringing former mujahidin into the group Islamic Jihad. Because of governmental pressure, he had to move to Sudan in 1992, but in 1996, he and Osama bin Laden returned to Afghanistan.

Al-Zawahiri was sentenced to death in absentia by an Egyptian court in 1999 for his role in organizing a variety of deadly terrorist attacks, but in particular the massacre of fifty-eight tourists in Luxor in 1997. The U.S. State Department currently has a $5 million reward out for information leading to his arrest.

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