All You Need to Know About the New Al Qaeda chief, Ayman Al-Zawahiri

The recent statement from Al Qaeda that Ayman al-Zawahiri has taken over as leader after the assassination of Osama bin Laden is not a surprise.

It also would not be a surprise if he tried to introduce himself to the world in his new  role  with a massive atrocity along the lines of 9/11. There is absolutely no evidence of this, and such attacks take a huge amount of advance planning, but the world needs to be aware that al-Zawahiri has the potential to be a much more vicious and indiscriminate enemy than bin Laden.

Ayman al -Zawahiri , a 60-year-old Egyptian surgeon,  comes from a wealthy conservative religious family. He was radicalised in his teens, becoming a disciple of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood ideologist who has had a pervasive influence on Al Qaeda and similar groups. He fully accepted the core teachings of Qutb: Islam is the solution to all the political, economic, social, religious etc issues in the world; there are obstacles in the way of implementing this solution: democracy, nationalism, socialism, communism etc; militant jihad is the only way to remove these obstacles.

He has asserted that the Al Qaeda campaign started on the death of Qutb in 1966. Originally a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, he  joined the Egyptian terror group Islamic Jihad rising to become its leader. It carried out a series of vicious terror attacks on the Egyptian state, both at home and abroad. During this campaign al-Zawahiri was imprisoned, tortured, and humiliated to such an extent that he eventually gave the Egyptian authorities key information about other activists in the terrorist campaign. Many ascribe his utterly ruthless and heartless militancy to this harsh prison experience. After the 1966 bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad , Pakistan (the relationship between Arab terrorism and Pakistan goes back at least that far), while still the leader of the Islamic Jihad movement, he published an important treatise entitled   Shifa  Sudur  Al-Mu’minin  (The Cure for Believers’ Hearts). This was the justification for that and other terrorist attacks which killed Muslim civilians, following significant criticism  from various Islamic sources. This treatise has become the justification for all Al Qaeda attacks and militant actions in general subsequently, including the 9/11 and similar atrocities.

His group was heavily criticised in Egypt  for  the civilian deaths in the Egyptian embassy bombing, for the death of a 13-year-old schoolgirl in another attack, and for the deaths of many Muslim civilians. In his treatise he dismissed the description of the embassy workers as innocent civilians, saying that the fact that they worked for the Egyptian government made them party to the crimes of the government and therefore a legitimate target. He has since applied this logic to all Al Qaeda attacks, both in Muslim countries and in the West.

This is his rationale: civilians in the West elect  and pay for their governments. There are therefore responsible for the actions of these governments – in essence there are the decision-makers-a nd thus they negate their status under Islamic law as innocent non-combatants and become “legitimate targets”.

He then  widens the range of legitimate targets dramatically using the concept of the greater good and exceptional circumstances to justify what is unjustifiable in Islamic (and general) laws of war. He claims in his treatise that Muslims were (and are) facing exceptional circumstances (because of his contention that the West, Jews and Christians in particular, are involved in a continuing campaign since the establishment of the Islamic religion to destroy that religion). He finally maintained that this oppressor was an overpowering enemy, while Islam was weak,  and in those exceptional circumstances the unelected defenders of the Islamic religion (Al Qaeda and their ilk) were entitled to more lax interpretation of Islamic law and therefore fully entitled to kill Muslims, and Muslim and non-Muslim innocent women and children in this campaign

What this meant was a fundamental change in the laws of war from the perspective of Al Qaeda and similar groups. In future all Muslims attached in any way to existing Islamic regimes, and all citizens of Western countries, were legitimate targets in this campaign. In addition if pious Muslims who opposed Islamic regimes, or women and children (Muslim and non-Muslim) happened to be killed in their campaign, then that was an unfortunate circumstance which did not breach Islamic laws, because of the current exceptional circumstances defined by him.

The Egyptian Islamic Jihad campaign in Egypt failed, principally because of the repressive campaign against this and similar groups by the Egyptian state, and the rejection by the people of Egypt of the campaign due to its indiscriminate violence against Muslim men, women and children.

Despite this rejection by the people of a key Muslim state, he went on, as the second in command of Al Qaeda and its ideological chief, to continue this indiscriminate terror campaign worldwide. As is clear from Pew Global Attitudes Surveys, and similar opinion polls, Muslims worldwide have turned against Al Qaeda and similar groups, mainly because of the indiscriminate nature of their campaign, and the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslim men women and children in the campaign. (Muslims have suffered much more in this campaign than the West has, a fact continuously ignored in the West.)

Al Zawahiri has clearly learnt nothing and will continue this murderous and futile campaign with considerable viciousness until he is killed.

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