He was Osama bin Laden's successor as head of the terrorist organisation

The US eliminates al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan

photo_camera Hamid Mir/Editor/Ausaf Newspaper for Daily Dawn via REUTERS - Osama bin Laden sitting with his advisor Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian linked to the Al-Qaeda network

The United States continues its crusade against al-Qaeda despite all the time that has passed since the terrible 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The US has killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaeda, successor to Osama bin Laden (head of the terrorist organisation during the 2001 attacks) and considered the shadow "mastermind" behind bin Laden himself.

US President Joe Biden announced al-Zawahiri's death following a drone strike in Afghanistan. "Justice has been served," Biden said after the operation to eliminate the jihadist organisation's leader was carried out in the early hours of 31 July against al-Zawahiri's own family home, in which no other members of his family were killed. Speaking from the White House, Biden said: "On Saturday, on my orders, the United States conducted an airstrike on Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed Al-Qaeda's emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri".


"No matter how much work it takes, no matter where he hides, if someone is a threat to our people, America will find him and take him out," Biden himself said in his message from the White House, confirming that the US remains steadfast in its intention to avenge the 9/11 attacks, which left around 3,000 dead, a figure that continues to strike a chord in the subconscious of American society. The death of the al-Qaeda leader "will allow the victims of 9/11 to turn the page", the US president said.


Al-Zawahiri took over the reins of al-Qaeda after a US military operation in Abbotabad, Pakistan, killed Osama bin Laden, then leader of the organisation and considered the US's number one enemy after the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon. The plan also included attacks on the White House and the Capitol in Washington. 

Al-Zawahiri was born in Egypt and was a surgeon by profession. He came from a wealthy family and is considered to be the true creator of al-Qaeda, although all the focus was on Osama bin Laden. Al-Zawahiri's family also has other illustrious members: his grandfather was the imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, a leading Sunni Islamic mosque, and his great-uncle Abdel Rahman Azzam was the first secretary of the Arab League. With a solid academic background and an affluent life, Al-Zawahiri flirted early on with extremist postulates and in his youth in Cairo came into contact with the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation now considered terrorist by several countries, including Egypt. 


A notable event in his life occurred in 1981, when he was one of many arrested in Egypt following the assassination of Egypt's president, Anwar el Sadat, by Muslim fundamentalists. Al-Zawahiri was tortured in prison and eventually revealed the whereabouts of terrorist leader Essam al-Qamari. After arresting al-Qamari, the Egyptian authorities not only sentenced him to death, but put him in the same cell as al-Zawahiri, who had betrayed him. 

At the time, al-Zawahiri was seen imprisoned with other defendants in the trials of extremists accused of involvement in Sadat's assassination in Cairo, and is credited with the phrase: "We will never forget", as the newspaper El Mundo recalled.

Al-Zawahiri was released and travelled to Peshawar, Pakistan, to provide medical services to the five million refugees caused by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1986, he met Bin Laden in Saudi Arabia, although they did not end up associating until 1994 in Sudan. In Pakistan, Al-Zawahiri became more involved in the armed struggle, to the point of directing the assassination of Abdullah Azzam, another Egyptian doctor and one of the most charismatic leaders of the Afghan anti-Soviet resistance. Azzam was an ally of Ahma Shah Masud, the leading anti-communist guerrilla and later the leader of the anti-Taliban resistance in Afghanistan. Masud was assassinated by al-Qaeda shortly before the 9/11 attacks.

Future of the terrorist organisation

The US action against al-Zawahiri is a serious blow against al-Qaeda as such, but there are other factions that use the name of the terrorist network, although they have no organic relationship with the original formation, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. 

Al-Zawahiri was considered the true ideologue of al-Qaeda at the origin of this jihadist terrorist organisation that has spread so much terror around the world and was one of the last survivors of the founding group, and the last remaining figure with public influence of the terrorist group. Al-Qaeda is now in decline and its future is uncertain. Hisham al-Najjar, an expert on political Islam movements, told Al-Ain News that Ayman al-Zawahiri "although he does not possess the charisma and presence of Osama bin Laden, he has extensive experience in leadership, manoeuvring, concealment, escape and organisational work, and therefore his death represents a very great loss to the organisation". As for the future of the terrorist entity, Al-Najjar notes that "it depends on a number of factors, not least the emergence of a new strong leadership that can come from various arrangements, which is difficult at the moment because of the loss of al-Qaeda's most important and prominent leader". One must also take into account the strong competition that al-Qaeda has with the other leading jihadist terrorist organisation, Da'esh. 

Al-Zawahiri was far more uncompromising than bin Laden and led to the isolation of al-Qaeda as the group collapsed in the aftermath of 9/11. Osama bin Laden was willing to cede autonomy to other organisations as long as they retained the "al-Qaeda" brand, but al-Zawahiri sought to maintain ideological and organisational control over them. 

Possible successor

The terrorist Saif al-Adl al-Masry, nicknamed 'Sword of Vengeance', has emerged as a possible successor to al-Zawahiri as al-Qaeda's leader, according to media outlets such as Al-Ain News. According to Al-Ain News, the Iran-based leader may have been committed to taking al-Qaeda back to its heyday under Osama bin Laden.


Intelligence agencies in both the United Kingdom and the United States may have set a $10 million reward for information on al-Masry, who was a leading member of bin Laden's direct protection unit in Afghanistan, known as the "Black Guard". 

Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.