During that period, he became acquainted with Osama, a wealthy Saudi who had joined the Afghan resistance.
Taking over the leadership of Islamic Jihad in Egypt in 1993, Zawahiri was a leading figure in a campaign in the mid-1990s to overthrow the government and set up a purist Islamic state. More than 1,200 Egyptians were killed.
Egyptian authorities mounted a crackdown on Islamic Jihad after an assassination attempt on President Hosni Mubarak in June of 1995 in Addis Ababa.
The greying, white-turbaned Zawahiri responded by ordering a 1995 attack on the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. Two cars filled with explosives rammed through the compound’s gates, killing 16 people.
In 1999, an Egyptian military court sentenced Zawahiri to death in absentia. By then he was living the spartan life of a militant after helping Osama to form al Qaeda.
A videotape aired by Al Jazeera in 2003 showed the two men walking on a rocky mountainside – an image that Western intelligence hoped would provide clues on their whereabouts.
For years Zawahiri was believed to be hiding along the forbidding border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
He assumed leadership of Al-Qaeda in 2011 after US Navy Seals killed Osama in his hideout in Pakistan.
Since then he repeatedly called for global jihad, with an Ak-47 as his side during video messages.
In a eulogy for Osama, Zawahiri promised to pursue attacks on the West, recalling the Saudi-born militant’s threat that “you will not dream of security until we live it as a reality and until you leave the lands of the Muslims”.
As it turned out, the emergence of the even more hardline (ISIS) in 2014-2019 in Iraq and Syria drew as much, if not more, attention from Western counter-terrorism authorities.
Zawahiri often tried to stir passions among Muslims by commenting online about sensitive issues such as US policies in the Middle East or Israeli actions against Palestinians, but his delivery was seen as lacking Osama’s magnetism.
On a practical level, Zawahiri is believed to have been involved in some of al Qaeda’s biggest operations, helping organise the 2001 attacks, when airliners hijacked by Al-Qaeda were used to kill 3,000 people in the US.
He was indicted for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The FBI put a US$25 million (S$34 million) bounty on his head on its most wanted list.
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