Muhammad al-Zawahiri

Muhammad al-Zawahiri—the younger brother of al-Qaeda Emir Ayman al-Zawahiri—is a suspected al-Qaeda associate currently on parole for terrorism charges in Egypt.“Mohamed al-Zawahiri released from prison for health reasons,” Mada Masr, February 24, 2016, http://www.madamasr.com/news/mohamed-al-zawahiri-released-prison-health-reasons. He was arrested in Cairo in August 2013 for allegedly forming and arming an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group, as well as commanding militants in Cairo, the Nile Delta, and the Sinai Peninsula.Naomi Conrad, “Brother of al Qaeda leader al-Zawairi in Egypt’s dock,” Deutsche Welle, August 9, 2015, http://www.dw.com/en/brother-of-al-qaeda-leader-al-zawahiri-in-egypts-dock/a-18637549.

In a 2008 interview with al-Qaeda’s media department As-Sahab, Ayman al-Zawahiri recalled Muhammad’s previous participation in “our jihadi group”—referring to what would become Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ).As-Sahab, “The Open Meeting with Shaykh Ayman al-Zawahiri: Part One,” Washington Post, 2008, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/world/OpenMeetingZawahiri_Part1.pdf. According to Western media, Muhammad al-Zawahiri joined EIJ in the late 1970s, when that group officially formed. EIJ carried out armed attacks on Egyptian Government and military facilities, as well as on U.S. targets in the region.Naomi Conrad, “Brother of al Qaeda leader al-Zawairi in Egypt’s dock,” Deutsche Welle, August 9, 2015, http://www.dw.com/en/brother-of-al-qaeda-leader-al-zawahiri-in-egypts-dock/a-18637549.  Muhammad al-Zawahiri served as the group’s military commander until its 2001 union with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.Nic Robertson, “Exclusive: Al Qaeda leader’s brother offers peace plan,” CNN, September 11, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/10/world/meast/zawahiri-peace-plan/.

In 1981, an Egyptian court named Muhammad al-Zawahiri as a conspirator in the assassination of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Al-Zawahiri was later acquitted in absentia while working at a construction firm in Saudi Arabia.“Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt,” Human Rights Watch, May 2005, https://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/egypt0505/egypt0505.pdf;
Naomi Conrad, “Brother of al Qaeda leader al-Zawairi in Egypt’s dock,” Deutsche Welle, August 9, 2015, http://www.dw.com/en/brother-of-al-qaeda-leader-al-zawahiri-in-egypts-dock/a-18637549.
In Saudi Arabia, al-Zawahiri joined the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), a social welfare charity“Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt,” Human Rights Watch, May 2005, https://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/egypt0505/egypt0505.pdf. that the United States has accused of funding al-Qaeda-linked groups including the Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiyah.“Additional Background Information on Charities Designated Under Executive 13224 – International Islamic Relief Organization,” U.S. Department of Treasury, accessed June 29, 2016, http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/terrorist-illicit-finance/Pages/protecting-charities_execorder_13224-i.aspx. Al-Zawahiri worked as an architect for the organization, traveling to various countries including Indonesia and Malawi.“Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt,” Human Rights Watch, May 2005, https://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/egypt0505/egypt0505.pdf. He was also stationed at the IIRO office in Albania where he furthered al-Qaeda’s agenda in the Balkans, according to author Eduart Bala.Eduart Bala, “The Financing of Islamist Groups in Albania,” Financing Terrorism: Case Studies, ed. Dr. Michael Freeman, (Burlington: Ashgate, 2013), Chapter 11, https://books.google.com/books?id=lQFhQpE0ye4C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

In the early 1990s, al-Zawahiri moved his family to Yemen and then to Sudan, fearing arrest in Saudi Arabia after the kingdom’s authorities arrested and extradited an Egyptian imam.“Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt,” Human Rights Watch, May 2005, https://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/egypt0505/egypt0505.pdf. In Sudan, al-Zawahiri reunited with his brother, who had been living in exile there. In May 1996, the Sudanese government expelled all EIJ members after they plotted and carried out attacks in Islamabad, Pakistan, and murdered two boys for allegedly spying on them for Egyptian intelligence.Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko, Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us (Oxford University Press, 2011), 204. Ayman fled to Afghanistan, and Muhammad returned to Yemen with his wife and children.“Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt,” Human Rights Watch, May 2005, https://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/egypt0505/egypt0505.pdf. In Yemen, al-Zawahiri hosted U.S.-designated senior al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) official Ibrahim al-Banna and other al-Qaeda figures. According to Banna, Zawahiri was responsible for organizing the Egyptian youth and integrating them into Yemeni society.Thomas Joscelyn, “State Department designates founding member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” Long War Journal, January 6, 2017, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/01/state-department-designates-founding-member-of-al-qaeda-in-the-arabian-peninsula.php.

In April 1999, Muhammad al-Zawahiri was arrested in the United Arab Emirates and rendered to Egypt. There are few publically available details on his arrest, which coincided with the end of a mass trial in Egyptian military court regarding the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.“Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt,” Human Rights Watch, May 2005, https://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/egypt0505/egypt0505.pdf. Al-Zawahiri spent nearly four-and-a-half years in the custody of Egyptian intelligence, after which he was transferred to the Ministry of the Interior’s State Security.“Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt,” Human Rights Watch, May 2005, https://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/egypt0505/egypt0505.pdf. He was released in May 2012 after spending nearly 14 years in prison on charges of terrorism and involvement in Sadat’s assassination.Nic Robertson, “Exclusive: Al Qaeda leader’s brother offers peace plan,” CNN September 11, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/10/world/meast/zawahiri-peace-plan/. According to the human rights organization Human Rights Watch, al-Zawahiri was sentenced to be executed in 1999, but the punishment was never carried out. He reportedly remained in legal uncertainty for most of his time in custody.“Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt,” Human Rights Watch, May 2005, https://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/egypt0505/egypt0505.pdf. Upon release, he organized protests in condemnation of the West and appeared in interviews with various media outlets.Naomi Conrad, “Brother of al Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri in Egypt’s dock,” Deutsche Welle, August 9, 2015, http://www.dw.com/en/brother-of-al-qaeda-leader-al-zawahiri-in-egypts-dock/a-18637549.

On September 11, 2012, al-Zawahiri reportedly led EIJ and al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group or IG) members in a protest outside of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.Christoph Sydow, “Violent Protests in Egypt and Libya: Deadly Attack Evokes Uncomfortable Memories,” Spiegel Online, September 12, 2012, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/muhammad-film-triggers-violent-protests-in-cairo-and-benghazi-a-855484.html. The protest was reportedly sparked by the film “Innocence of Muslims,” which was circulated online and found to be offensive to some Muslims.CNN Wire Staff, “Protestors attack US. Diplomatic compounds in Egypt, Libya,” CNN, September 12, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/11/world/meast/egpyt-us-embassy-protests/. That same day, al-Zawahiri gave an exclusive interview to CNN during which he volunteered to mediate a 10-year truce between Islamists and the West. Under his proposal, the United States and the West would release all Islamist prisoners, end its so-called war on Islam, stop interfering in Muslim education, and cease intervention in Muslim lands. In exchange, Islamists would end attacks on Western and U.S. interests, protect legitimate Western and U.S. interests in Muslim lands, and cease provoking the United States and the West.Nic Robertson, “Exclusive: Al Qaeda leader’s brother offers peace plan,” CNN, September 11, 2012, https://www.cnn.com/2012/09/10/world/meast/zawahiri-peace-plan/.

Al-Zawahiri has also made numerous statements condemning French intervention in Mali. On January 18, 2013, he organized a protest in front of the French embassy in Cairo and told an Agence France-Presse reporter that France was “at war against Islam.”Thomas Joscelyn, “The younger Zawahiri protests France’s ‘war against Islam’,” Long War Journal, January 18, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/01/the_younger_zawahiri_protests.php. In the same month, he told German newspaper Die Zeit that he was “completely in agreement with my brother’s [Ayman al-Zawahiri] thoughts and actions,” and that “Muslims should be governed only by Allah’s sharia.”Fritz Schaap, “Auge um Auge,” Die Zeit (Hamburg), January 31, 2013, http://www.zeit.de/2013/06/Interview-Islamist-al-Sawahiri.

Egyptian authorities arrested al-Zawahiri and over 60 others in August 2013. The group was charged with forming an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist cell and plotting attacks. Specifically, al-Zawahiri was charged with establishing an extremist group, arming militants, and conducting explosives training at clandestine camps in Cairo and the Nile Delta.Naomi Conrad, “Brother of al Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri in Egypt’s dock,” Deutsche Welle, August 9, 2015, http://www.dw.com/en/brother-of-al-qaeda-leader-al-zawahiri-in-egypts-dock/a-18637549. Authorities also claimed he had commanded militants in the Sinai Peninsula.Associated Press, “Mohammed Al-Zawahiri, Brother of Al-Qaeda Chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri Reportedly Detained in Egypt,” CBS News, August 17, 2013, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/mohammed-al-zawahri-brother-of-qaeda-chief-ayman-al-zawahri-arrested-in-egypt/.

In October 2015, the South Cairo Court acquitted al-Zawahiri of his charges but sentenced 10 of his codefendants to death.Elizabeth Whitman, “Egypt War on Terror: Al Qaeda Leader Zawahiri’s Brother Acquitted Of Terrorism-Related Charges, Amid Growing Security Threats,” International Business Times, October 15, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.com/egypt-war-terror-al-qaeda-leader-zawahiris-brother-acquitted-terrorism-related-2142159. Al-Zawahiri reportedly remained in detention in connection to separate charges of establishing an al-Qaeda-linked terror cell.Ramadan Al Sherbini, “Al Qaida chief brother acquitted in terror trial,” Gulf News, October 15, 2015, http://gulfnews.com/news/mena/egypt/al-qaida-chief-brother-acquitted-in-terror-trial-1.1601203. The cell was known as the Zawahiri cell. In February 2016, al-Zawahiri was reportedly released from prison due to health concerns. He was placed on parole pending trial and required to check in with a parole officer every 45 days until the conclusion of his trial..“Mohamed al-Zawahiri released from prison for health reasons,” Mada Masr, February 24, 2016, http://www.madamasr.com/news/mohamed-al-zawahiri-released-prison-health-reasons.

Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a CIA drone strike in Afghanistan on July 31, 2022.Matthew Lee, Nomaan Merchant, Mike Balsamo, and James Laporta, “Biden: Drone strike on al-Qaida leader delivered ‘justice,’” Associated Press, August 1, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/ayman-al-zawahri-al-qaida-terrorism-biden-36e5f10256c9bc9972b252849eda91f2.

Also Known As

Extremist entity
Al-Qaeda
Type(s) of Organization:
Non-state actor, religious, terrorist, transnational, violent
Ideologies and Affiliations:
Jihadist, pan-Islamist, Qutbist, Salafist, Sunni, takfiri
Position(s):
Alleged associate

Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks was the deadliest ever on American soil, killing nearly 3,000 people. Since the fall of the Taliban, al-Qaeda has established operations worldwide, including in Syria, the Gulf, North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, and the Indian subcontinent.

Extremist entity
Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ)
Type(s) of Organization:
Non-state actor, terrorist, violent, insurgent
Ideologies and Affiliations:
Islamist, jihadist, Sunni
Position(s):
Former military commander

Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks was the deadliest ever on American soil, killing nearly 3,000 people. Since the fall of the Taliban, al-Qaeda has established operations worldwide, including in Syria, the Gulf, North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, and the Indian subcontinent.

  • Rhetoric
Return to Full Database

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On December 6, 2021, alleged ISIS fighters from Syria attacked Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq in Nineveh province’s Makhmour district.   

View Archive

CEP on Twitter