Compiled & Edited by Alex Constantine
Al Zawahiri's terrorist activities, according to most accounts, started in 1981 with his participation in the murder of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. His bloody vitae includes the 1997 massacre of 70 people on a tourist bus and an attempt to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995. Yet, according to Congressional testimony in 2000, al-Zawahiri was granted U.S. residence by the INS ...
In July 1991, the criminal BCCI bank is shut down (see July 5, 1991), and Osama bin Laden apparently loses some of his fortune held in BCCI accounts as a result (see July 1991). But while bin Laden loses money, he and his future second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri gain influence. Other Islamist militants have been heavily relying on BCCI for their finances, and in the wake of BCCI’s collapse they are forced to bank elsewhere. Author Roland Jacquard will later claim that
... Egypt, too, is locked in a war with Islamic fundamentalists who include several hundred "Afghan" guerrillas. The main group is led by Mohammed Shawky al-Istambouli -- brother of the fundamentalist army lieutenant, Khalid al-Istambouli, who led the group that assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in October 1981 -- and Ayman Zawahiry. It split from the mainstream faction known as the "Dawa and Sharia" (The Call and Islamic Law) which had been the mother group for all the Arabs "Afghans" during the war against the Soviets. This group had received direct support from U.S., British, French and Israeli intelligence agencies.
The CIA poured billions into a jihad against Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, creating a militant Islamist Abraham Lincoln Brigade believed to have been involved in bombings from Islamabad to New York. Is Bosnia next? by Mary Anne Weaver
ONE Friday evening, just after sunset prayers, Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman climbed into a camouflaged truck in Peshawar, Pakistan, and set off for his first trip inside Afghanistan. It was 1985, he told me later, and he had just spent three years in Egyptian prisons, where he had been severely tortured as he awaited trial on charges of issuing a fatwa resulting in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat; a military court later acquitted him of that, and of a related conspiracy charge. (Last January in New York the sheikh was sentenced to life imprisonment for seditious conspiracy to wage a "war of urban terrorism against the United States.") As he settled into the back seat of the U.S.-supplied truck, the sheikh, who was then forty-seven and had been blind since infancy, was helped into a flak jacket by the fundamentalist Afghan resistance leader Gulbaddin Hekmatyar. ...
The mujahideen preferred to move the arms supplied by the CIA on moonless nights, Nawab Salim, one of Hekmatyar's aides, explained later when he recounted the trip to me. Salim accompanied the sheikh and Hekmatyar into Afghanistan that night; so did Muhammad Shawqi Islambouli, an Egyptian who was fighting in the war, and who was the elder brother of Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, the assassin of Anwar Sadat. The sun was just beginning to rise when the convoy reached its destination, a battlefield headquarters in the province of Jalalabad, some fifty miles northeast of the Afghan capital, Kabul. Everything there seemed to be highly improvised, and the headquarters consisted merely of a string of battered and pockmarked buildings built into the side of a strategic hill. ...
In its March 30 issue, The Village Voice broke a shocking story connecting the growth of US-aided Muslim militance in Afghanistan with the February bombing of the World Trade Center.
Here's the upshot of the Voice's massive cover story, written by Robert I. Friedman:
The US government's financial and military support of the mujahedeen rebels in Afghanistan created fertile ground for the organizing and training of revolutionary, fundamentalist Muslims, who had their sights set on opponents other than the Soviet-backed government - namely the United States. As has been the case in other proxy wars, the US' strident support of the mujahedeen led to some unsavory by-products.
'It was no accident that the Sheikh got a visa and that he's still in the country. He's here under the banner of national security, the State Department, the NSA (National Security Agency) and the CIA.'
The US valued the Soviet-battling rebels so much that it allowed Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman - the blind, waxy-eyed fundamentalist cleric believed to have been involved in such terrorist acts as the conspiracy to assassinate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat - to enter the US and set up shop in Jersey City, NJ. The Sheikh had established himself as an important US ally by helping the CIA channel money, weapons and men to mujahedeen training centers in the US-supported countries of Egypt and Pakistan, the Voice said.
The Voice's revelations of US government complicity with the Sheikh are scary but not at all surprising when stacked up against Iran-contra, the spuriously explained invasion of Panama, Iraq-gate and other Reagan-Bush foreign policy debacles.
The Voice article makes the case that the US government purposely whitewashed the investigation of the 1990 murder in Manhattan of right-wing Zionist leader Rabbi Meir Kahane by a member of Sheikh Rahman's Jersey City headquarters, the El Salaam Mosque. Probing too deeply into the killing, the Voice said, would have exposed the Sheikh's connections with the murder suspect and with the US government. It also would have revealed that federal officials discovered a cache of ammunition and terrorist plans - including a "hit list" of US officials - in the alleged killer's New Jersey home.
At the suspect's trial, to the shock of many observers, prosecutors pitched to the jury a lone-gunman theory and posed no motive for the killing. The man was acquitted of the murder though convicted on lesser charges.
With the damning evidence safely under wraps and his cover still intact, Sheikh Rahman got the green light to continue his schemes to commit other acts of terrorism in the US and elsewhere, the Voice said. His protection by US officials continued even after the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, conceivably dropping any incentive the US had to coddle the mujahedeen-friendly Sheikh.
Despite all of the evidence that the Sheikh was planning domestic terrorism, and a recent warning from Egyptian intelligence officials that his New Jersey mosque was a "hotbed of terrorist activity," the US allowed him to stay in the country, according to the Voice. We have now learned that the main suspects in the Feb. 26 Trade Center bombing were frequenters of the Sheikh's El Salaam Mosque.
Alleged cohorts of the Sheikh also are said to be behind the explosion of a bomb packed with rusty nails that killed four and injured 16 at a Cairo restaurant - on the same day as the Trade Center bombing, the Voice said. The article also chronicles other terrorist actions allegedly carried out by associates of the Sheikh, and the deadly reprisals carried out by the US government.
[Funny, no CIA connections noted here ...]
By T. CHRISTIAN MILLER, TIMES STAFF WRITER
MAADI, Egypt -- The doctor once ran a flourishing medical clinic in this wealthy neighborhood of grand villas and trendy art galleries. He was a scion of one of Egypt's most respected families, a graduate of an exclusive preparatory school, a learned scholar, accomplished surgeon and poet. But that was long ago, when the world seemed a less threatening place and the doctor worked more to heal than to hate. Now Ayman Zawahiri is the world's second-most-wanted man.
The 50-year-old Egyptian is believed to be Osama bin Laden's most important aide. Earlier this year, he was even mentioned as the next leader of the Al Qaeda terrorist network after reports surfaced that Bin Laden was suffering from kidney disease.
Zawahiri is a brilliant and forceful intellect, the man who provides much of the ideological and strategic grounding to Bin Laden's war against the West, according to friends, family and terrorism experts. He also brings experience. Zawahiri's terrorist record dates back more than 20 years. He faces a death sentence in Egypt stemming from his role as leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group responsible for the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat.
Zawahiri has been indicted as one of the key planners of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Interpol recently released a worldwide alert for his arrest.
Zawahiri's long, slow rise illustrates the ideological evolution of Islamic fundamentalists' struggle. Under his leadership, fundamentalist groups moved from attacking supposedly corrupt Arab governments to targeting civilians on U.S. soil. His life also serves as a warning of the difficulties ahead as the U.S. embarks on its war against terrorism. Anti-American sentiment among Bin Laden's top followers runs deep. Eradicating it will not be easy. Or quick.
Zawahiri was born in Cairo in 1951 to a family of doctors and scholars. His grandfather was the grand imam of Al Azhar in Cairo, one of the most important mosques in the Arab world and a center of Islamic thought. A great-uncle was the first secretary-general of the Arab League. Another great-uncle is one of the leaders of an important opposition party in Egypt.
Zawahiri became involved from an early age with the Muslim Brotherhood, a nonviolent group seeking the creation of a single Islamic nation built from the Arab states. The Egyptian government, which saw the group as a threat to statehood, outlawed it in 1954. In the years that followed, hundreds of followers were imprisoned. Many were tortured, then executed.
In a response to the crackdown, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad was founded in 1973, dedicated to the violent overthrow of Egypt's secular government through the assassinations of high-ranking officials.
"Every action has an opposite reaction," said Fahim Huweidi, a writer for Al Ahram, Egypt's semiofficial newspaper. "They learned a lesson from the years when their fathers and relatives were tortured and hanged and spent years in jail."
The group had its greatest success in 1981, when several Jihad members disguised as soldiers shot and killed Sadat during a military parade. Zawahiri was picked up in the mass arrests that followed and was charged with conspiracy. At the time a low-ranking member of the Jihad, Zawahiri was exonerated of that charge but found guilty of carrying an unlicensed pistol. He served three years in prison.
Television footage at the start of the trials gave a hint of his growing leadership role. Zawahiri appeared with other conspirators angrily denouncing the government. They grew quiet as he began speaking from behind bars in a cell crowded with other men.
"We are Muslims who believe in our religion," he shouted at the cameras in accented English. "We're trying our best to establish an Islamic state and Islamic society."
After his release in 1984, Zawahiri opened a medical clinic in the Cairo suburb of Maadi, once the location of choice for British bureaucrats during colonial times and now the center of the American expatriate community. There he treated patients from some of Egypt's wealthiest families and cared for his own family. His great-uncle Mahfouz Azzam, vice president of the opposition Labor Party and a criminal attorney, described him as a devoted family man, with a wife and several children.
Zawahiri did not stay put for long. He left his clinic in about 1985 to join the Red Crescent organization treating U.S.-backed guerrillas battling the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. He came back once, Azzam said, then left again in 1986, never to return.
"Nobody in the family has heard from him since," Azzam said.
It was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, working under primitive conditions (his uncle said Zawahiri had to use honey to sterilize wounds) that he apparently met Bin Laden, who was recruiting and organizing guerrillas. Both men were wealthy; both were from famous families in their homelands; both had been educated at top private schools. Their friendship deepened in the dusty battlefields of Afghanistan and border towns of Pakistan. It was during this time in the late 1980s and early '90s that Zawahiri apparently solidified his idea of exporting and expanding terrorism.
He convinced Bin Laden of the need for armed action to establish Islamic states in other Muslim countries. One associate told Al Sharq al Awsat, the influential Saudi-owned newspaper in London, that Zawahiri gained great influence over Bin Laden.
Zawahiri "is what the brain is to the body with regard" to Bin Laden, Muntasir Zayyat, an attorney who defended Zawahiri on terrorist charges in Egypt in 1999, told the newspaper. A military court sentenced Zawahiri to death in that trial.
By the early 1990s, Zawahiri was hard at work to expand the resources and scope of Egyptian Islamic Jihad. He was using false identities and traveling throughout Europe. In 1991, he made at least one fund-raising trip to California. Using a false identity as Dr. Abdel Muez, Zawahiri visited three mosques, claiming to be raising money for Afghan widows, orphans and other refugees. In 1993, he was kicked out of Pakistan by the government of Benazir Bhutto, according to Yasser Serri, an Islamic activist in London who has been sentenced to death in Egypt for his alleged role in a failed 1993 Jihad assassination attempt of Bhutto, who was then prime minister.
After that, Zawahiri fled to Sudan, Serri said, to join Bin Laden's growing forces. One report had him in Bosnia at the time to support Muslims fighting Serbs there.
One thing is clear: By the early 1990s, Zawahiri was in charge of a rejuvenated Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which had embarked on a ferocious terrorism campaign against the Egyptian government. The group claimed responsibility for the failed assassination attempts against Interior Minister Hassan Alfi in August 1993 and Prime Minister Atef Sedki in November 1993. It also took responsibility for bombing the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad in 1995.
But it wasn't until 1998 that Zawahiri leapt from the shadows.
In February of that year, he joined Bin Laden in declaring a new alliance to fight against the West.
Federal court records in New York on the African embassy bombings in August 1998 document Zawahiri's alliance with Bin Laden and his effort to recruit and raise money in the United States. Ali Mohammed, an Egyptian-born soldier who served in the armies of the U.S. and Egypt, declared in court last Oct. 20 that Zawahiri twice traveled to the U.S. in the early 1990s
Mohammed, who was pleading guilty that day to charges of conspiring to kill Americans and destroy U.S. buildings in the embassy bombings, said he also arranged security for a meeting in Sudan between Bin Laden and the leaders of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and the Iranian government in late 1994. After the bombings, the U.S. struck back with cruise missiles. Zawahiri was undaunted. Speaking by satellite phone, he told a Times reporter that further attacks lay in the future.
"The war has just started. The Americans should wait for an answer," Zawahiri said then. In the spring of 1999, he was tried in absentia in Egypt for a variety of terrorist acts, including an attack against the U.S. Embassy in Albania that never materialized.
But Zawahiri's alliance with Bin Laden proved especially controversial. There was an internal dispute within the Jihad, and now some believe the group has splintered, with no more than a few dozen still attached to Zawahiri.
Earlier this year, several leading members of the Jihad expressed their disappointment at Zawahiri's decision to join Bin Laden, saying the choice was a strategic mistake that increased law enforcement pressure.
Though Serri denied rumors of a breakup, Rashwan said "several hundred" Jihad members decided to remove Zawahiri from a leadership position, leaving him with only a handful of disciples.
Still, experts say, those few followers are important. Zawahiri brings the Egyptian Islamic Jihad name, famous throughout the dark corners of the terrorist world, as well as expertise in carrying out terrorist attacks, especially car bombings.
Zawahiri's whereabouts are a mystery. The Interpol arrest warrant suggests that at least some officials may believe he has already fled Afghanistan on one of his many fake passports.
Equally mysterious is whether he played any role in the Sept. 11 attacks. Family and friends deny that Zawahiri would attack civilians. They point out that the Jihad, unlike another Egyptian terrorist group, the Gamaa al Islamiya, confined its targets to political officials.
Zawahiri's sister and mother still live in Cairo, in a bottom-floor apartment in a once elegant neighborhood that has fallen on hard times. The front of the apartment is now a kabob stand. A woman sells live chickens from a stall across the street, nearly choked by Cairo's ever-present dust and sand. An English-speaking woman in the apartment declined to be interviewed. She told a visiting reporter to leave.
"I have no answers to your questions," the woman said.