The 71-year-old al-Zawahiri succeeded the assassinated Osama bin Laden as chief of the anti-US underground group, al-Qaeda. The mild-mannered, Egyptian had been a local doctor in Cairo, when the brutal secret police of US-backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak, arrested him. Though al-Zawahiri was not directly involved in the opposition, he was savagely tortured by Mubarak’s secret police, who were directly advised and financially assisted by US security experts and intelligence.
I never met Dr. al-Zawahiri, but I spent long hours with his teacher and mentor, Sheik Abdullah Azzam – who was also bin Laden’s spiritual guide and instructor. Call him the father of jihad.
After torture and jail, Dr. al-Zawahiri became radicalized, joining Osama bin Laden’s underground movement that was dedicated to ousting American influence from the Muslim world. Al-Zawahiri later joined bin Laden in Afghanistan, a free-fire zone for Islamic jihadists. According to Washington, any groups opposing US presence in the Mideast were without doubt `terrorists.’ Israel developed this terminology to discredit all Palestinian resistance groups.
The US claims Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri were the architects of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. But bin Laden and al-Zawahiri denied being involved though they applauded the bloody attacks. Bin Laden stated the attack on New York was payback for Israel’s destruction of PLO-occupied West Beirut in its 1982 invasion of Lebanon. No one in the West paid any attention.
To this day, I question if bin Laden and his group were actually behind 9/11. Tapes of bin Laden discussing the attack on New York shown on CNN turned out to be poorly made fakes.
My contacts in Afghanistan and Pakistan insist the attack came from extreme anti-American groups in Saudi Arabia and were planned in Germany and Spain. Taliban had nothing to do with 9/11. Neither did Iraq, as the Bush administration falsely claimed. Hamid Gul, the former head of ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, told me that the Saudis were behind 9/11.
But why al-Zawahiri was openly living in Kabul – if he really was – remains a mystery. Relations between al-Qaeda and Taliban were always bad. So too with Iran. Yet al-Zawahiri supposedly chose to live in a downtown apartment surrounded by informers, spies, and former regime secret police with a $25 million price on his head? One also questions why Osama bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, a Pakistani military cantonment, openly and unguarded.
What we do know is that both bin Laden and al-Zawahiri were pretty much retired from being militants. Normally, they would have been playing golf or cricket and playing with their grandkids. Neither was well hidden or heavily protected. That’s curious, to say the least. Al-Qaeda had gone almost out of business. Both old jihadists were, ailing old men.
Bin Laden was buried at sea by the US Navy. According to Washington, this was done to prevent his burial site from becoming a shrine. If involved in the mass crime on 9/11, he should have been brought to New York to stand trial.
According to this writer, it was also done because, as pirates used to say, dead men tell no tales. Bin Laden used to be a US ally at one time, and no one wanted to hear about that. Al-Zawahiri had skeletons in his closet. As Stalin used to quip, ‘no man, no problem.’
Sheikh Abdullah Azzam told me when we were in Peshawar, Pakistan that ‘once we have liberated Afghanistan, we will go on to liberate Saudi Arabia from American rule.’ Azzam was a Palestinian refugee who had lost his family home to Israeli settlers. He was murdered by a car bomb outside that city before he could move against the Saudis. Who killed Azzam remains unknown. He had many enemies. Equally suspect are the Americans, Indians, Afghan Communists, Tajiks, Uzbeks, backers of Benazir Bhutto, or Soviet KGB.
Al-Zawahiri proved a lackluster leader and allowed al-Qaeda to fade almost to obscurity. The younger, more militant group, Islamic State, accused al-Qaeda of selling out to the western powers and becoming feeble and even attacked Taliban. Both al-Zawahiri and bin Laden had paled to insignificance by the time they were assassinated by the CIA. But even in death they remained potent symbols of resistance to western domination.