Translated by Carol Simonetti
On the 20th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 attacks, Al-Qaeda has released a new video featuring the group’s leader, the 70-year-old Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri. There was great expectation because we have not heard from him for a long time, and many believe that the one who replaced Osama Bin Laden at the helm of Al Qaeda, after the killing of the latter in May 2011, has long since passed away. In this regard, in November 2020, Arab News Pakistan spoke about his death, “which occurred due to natural causes, at the age of 69, in Afghanistan”.
Some photos dating back to 2019 showed him very thin and suffering, while in the aforementioned video al-Zawahiri, on which the United States has put a bounty of 25 million dollars, appears in good health. The video released at 5.30pm on September 11th, 2021 has likely been assembled some time ago, certainly also intended to try to stem the doubts of the terrorist organization’s militants who have to face media competition and not only the Islamic State. On the contents that Panorama was able to examine, expectations were disappointed because in the 61 minutes of the video entitled “Arab Zionists from Faisal to Bin Zaid – Jerusalem will not be Judaized”, Ayman al-Zawahiri makes no mention of recent events, for example, it says nothing about the Taliban victory in Afghanistan or the 20th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 massacres.
Who is Ayman al-Zawahiri?
Born in Cairo on June 19th, 1951, Zawahiri comes from an upper-class family where doctors and scholars abound, his father Mohammed, who died in 1995, was a professor of pharmacology at Cairo University. His grandfather, Rabia al-Zawahiri, was the grand imam of al-Azhar, the largest center of Sunni Islamic culture in the Middle East, and one of his uncles was Secretary General of the Arab League. Fascinated since adolescence by the jihadist armed struggle, he was arrested at the age of 15 because he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood considered an outlaw group, then as now, by the Egyptian government. In 1974 Ayman al-Zawahiri graduated in medicine while in 1978 obtained a master’s degree in surgery but as a doctor he will practice very little because already in 1973 he joined the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. In 1981 he was arrested on suspicion of having played a role in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat on October 6th, 1981 during a military parade in the Egyptian capital. Sadat was hated by the Islamists because he had signed the Peace Agreement with Israel and because he was responsible for the harsh repression carried out by the Egyptian authorities against them.
In some videos of the time, a young Ayman al-Zawahiri is seen testifying at the trial, where he will be sentenced to three years for illegal possession of weapons, shouting “We are Muslims who believe in their religion. Let’s try to establish an Islamic state and an Islamic society”. After his release in 1985, the Egyptian doctor moves to Saudi Arabia, then to Pakistan, and finally to Afghanistan where, during the Soviet occupation, he will be a doctor of the Mujahideen. After the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan, al-Zawahiri travelled extensively in the Balkans, Austria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, the Philippines, Bulgaria, Denmark, and even Switzerland, always with false documents. According to what he recounted, in 1996 he was arrested in Chechnya because he was found without a visa but the Russians did not recognize him, and “they were unable to have the translations of the Arabic texts found on my computer”. In 1997 in Jalalabad, a city in eastern Afghanistan, the capital of the province of Nangarhar, he met Osama Bin Laden and it was the meeting that changed his life.
Together they create the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders. The front’s first proclamation is a fatwa allowing the killing of US civilians. After six months, the two simultaneous attacks on the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania will arrive on time in which 223 people will die. The World Islamic Front becomes Al Qaeda and the rest is known history.
To get back to Al Qaeda’s last two media productions, we asked the strategic analyst Franco Iacch about his impressions:
«By analyzing the two productions released by Al Qaeda for the anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers, we can say with certainty that the leader of Al Qaeda did not die last year. On September 10th, the central command of Al Qaeda released a treaty signed by Ayman al Zawahiri entitled ‘Reflections on political corruption and its effects in the history of Muslims’. The introduction, written by al Zawahiri himself, is dated April 2021. To the phrase “Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri”, the main media branch of Al Qaeda inserts the phrase “May Allah protect him”. The latter is a standard phrase used by terrorist organizations to identify a living person. For example, for Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda uses the phrase “May Allah have mercy on him».
And what about the video?
«This confirms with certainty that Ayman al Zawahiri did not die last year. At 5.30 pm on the anniversary of the Twin Towers’ attack, the central command of Al Qaeda released a 61-minute video entitled “Jerusalem will not be Judaized” starring the leader of the terrorist organization. A phrase already used by Al Qaeda’s ramifications for a terrorist campaign in Africa. At the end of the video, Ayman al Zawahiri utters the words “Tal al Simn” about “one of the most important operations against the enemy”. This is the data that confirms that Ayman al-Zawahiri did not die in 2020. Last January 1st, a car bomb targeted the Russian base near the village of Tal al-Saman, in the north-eastern Syrian province of Raqqa. The attack was claimed on January 15th by Hurras al-Din, a group affiliated with Al Qaeda fighting in Syria (and which could cooperate with Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham»
So this is a video assembled in various stages?
«The video may have been shot in different periods, but the reference to Tal al Simn confirms that Ayman al-Zawahiri did not die last year. Assuming that he recorded the passage on Tal al Simn a few hours after the attack, we have a useful time window that places al-Zawahiri alive at least until last January 2nd. Then maybe he really caught up with Osama Bin Laden»