The Second Most Wanted Man

Ayman Al-Zawahri May Be Mastermind Behind Al Qaeda

While the name Osama bin Laden has become synonymous with terrorism, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahri, the man most intelligence analysts believe is the brains behind bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist organization, is considered the world's second most wanted man.

Correspondent Ed Bradley reports on this broadcast, which first aired on Oct. 21, 2001.

Just hours after the United States started bombing Afghanistan on Oct. 7, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahri, a 50-year-old Egyptian, appeared in a video sitting next to Osama bin Laden.

The CIA has reportedly called him the warm-up man, because in joint appearances, al-Zawahri always speaks first, with messages such as: "Oh, American people, your government is leading you to a new lost war. Remember that your government was defeated in Vietnam. Today, your government is leading you to another lost war where you will lose your children and your money."

While al-Zawahri has been indicted in federal court for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed more than 200 people, it's also alleged he planned the attack on the USS Cole. Investigators say he may also be the mastermind of September's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Mamoun Fandi, a professor at the government's National Defense University in Washington, is an expert on Islamic fundamentalists. He remembers al-Zawahri as a campus radical when Fandi was a university student in Egypt.

"I think if bin Laden is the chairman of the board of that organization, Ayman al-Zawahri is the actual CEO of this organization," says Fandi. "He is the al Qaeda itself."

When President Bush unveiled the FBI's new Most Wanted List, Zawahri was right up there with bin Laden, whose story is well known. But to find out about bin Laden's partner, the place to go is Egypt.

Ayman al-Zawahri does not fit your typical profile of a terrorist. He grew up in Cairo in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods along the banks of the Nile.

His family is one of the most prestigious in Egypt with generations of scholars, politicians and doctors, not violent terrorists. Growing up, al-Zawahri went to the best schools. In fact, he became a doctor--a practicing pediatrician.

But even when he was a teenager, al-Zawahri was active in the Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab world's oldest fundamentalist political organization, which in the '50s, tried to bring down the government of Egypt.

Even though some of its members espoused violence, it was for the most part a non-violent political organization. But it gave birth to a group that was far more radical. It called itself Islamic Jihad.

Islamic Jihad was formed in the early '70s with two goals: the violent overthrow of the Egyptian government and the establishment of an Islamic state. The group was small. Most people in Egypt had never even heard of them.

But that all changed on Oct. 6, 1981. President Anwar Sadat was reviewing Egypt's annual military parade, which included a flyover of Egypt's newest American-made fighter jets. At that moment, four soldiers jumped out of the back of a truck, passing the reviewing stand, and throwing grenades and shooting automatic weapons. They killed President Sadat and seven others.

Sadat's assassination was Islamic Jihad's announcement of its existence, and it was clear that its members were prepared to kill to achieve their goals.

In the aftermath, Egypt arrested thousands of fundamentalists for conspiracy in the assassination. Among them was 30-year-old Dr. Ayman Zawahri.

It was during his imprisonment that he became the spokesman for Islamic Jihad. "Human rights, where is justice? Where is justice? We will never forget. We will never forget," says al-Zawahri.

Also among those arrested was Montaser Al Zayat, who was in the cell next to al-Zawahri.

"Whoever meets Dr. Ayman Zawahri and gets to know him soon feels at ease and likes him, and a good relationship soon develops," says Al Zayat.

What was his first impression? "He had a sharp intelligence. Calm. He does not talk much," says Al Zayat.

In 1984, Zawahri was released from prison, but was kept under constant surveillance. That's why, soon after, he left Egypt for good. But Islamic Jihad's terror campaign continued, targeting policemen, politicians, government ministers, even President Mubarak, who survived two assassination attempts.

And in 1997, there was an attack at one of Egypt's major tourist attractions, the temples at Luxor, where 58 tourists were killed.

Until he retired in 2000, Serag al-Rouby was a major general with the Egyptian police. "We, as an Islamic society, were the first to suffer from terrorism, and they have dealt us many severe blows," says al-Rouby.

Gen. al-Rouby says even though al-Zawahri was out of the country, he was clearly involved with Islamic Jihad. "He is one of the leaders of Islamic Jihad, inside and outside of Egypt," says al-Rouby.

Al-Zawahri's rise to the top of Islamic Jihad was aided by the fact that most of its leaders in Egypt were arrested, or simply disappeared in the government's war on terror.

Thousands of fundamentalists have been imprisoned and many held without trial for years in a campaign that human rights groups alleged was extremely harsh -- using torture and murder.

Are they considered a serious threat to Egypt's national security? "No, not anymore," says Mohammed Abdul Moneim, the spokesman for Egypt's President Mubarak.

How much pressure was there on President Mubarak to end this violence?

"Well, actually, he took it as a primary job, a primary mission to encounter these people. So he had to go and fight these people, and they did. But he fought them quietly, without talking, without saying anything," says Moneim. "The only thing he did was to call the international community to get together, group together against this threat, because it's an international phenomena. It's not a local one. You didn't believe that."

"And people didn't listen?" asks Bradley.

"Not people here," says Moneim.

"In the early '90s, basically what you're saying is that Egypt said, 'Hey, here's a problem,' and the United States and European countries ignored it," says Bradley.

"Yes, for sure. And they didn't even ignore it--just ignore it," says Moneim. "They helped the people who are wanted by Egypt. They did."

One of those wanted by Egypt was al-Zawahri, who had been tried in absentia and sentenced to death.

But because he faced the death penalty, European countries would not extradite him, so for some 10 years, he was able to travel freely in Europe and reportedly even made two fund-raising trips to the United States. Egyptians say that money was used to blow up their embassy in Pakistan.

"A terrorist is like a wolf, and wolves do not quench their thirst by water, but they quench their thirst with their victim's blood, even if it's the blood of those who give them shelter," says Al-Rouby.

Around 1995, al-Zawahri moved to the Sudan, where he once again linked up with Osama bin Laden, whom he had first met during the Afghan war against Russia. In 1998, they joined forces to form a new group, the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, a group which had the following creed: To kill Americans--military and civilian--is an
individual duty of every Muslim who is able.

Six months later, the American embassies were bombed.

Is al-Zawahri capable of committing these crimes of which he's been accused?

"He is, without a doubt, capable of planning attacks of such a scale," says Al Zayat, who was in prison with al-Zawahri 20 years ago. He's now a lawyer who has represented him and Islamic Jihad in court. "The most distinguishing feature of Zawahri is that he is a brilliant planner."

According to intelligence analysts, most of bin Laden's closest aides are Zawahri's men. In fact, the core of al Qaeda's leadership is Egyptian -- Islamic Jihad loyalists who have helped turn it into the most lethal terrorist organization in the world.

"When Osama bin Laden met Ayman al-Zawahri in the mid-'80s, Osama bin Laden was a rich Saudi without any organizational vision," says Al Zayat. "I describe Ayman al-Zawahri as being the brains behind Osama bin Laden."

Whose influence in this relationship is stronger, or the most important?

"Ayman al-Zawahri wields a greater influence on bin Laden, certainly," adds Al Zayat.

In fact, al-Zawahri is credited with shifting al Qaeda's focus from Arab countries to attacking the United States.

Was Al Zayat surprised that a doctor, a pediatrician, could be so violent?

"Maybe he doesn't surprise us, but rather, he earns our respect. Ever since I've known him, he could have had a good life," says Al Zayat. "He comes from a wealthy family, but he has a certain set of beliefs and has devoted himself to implementing them."

Chief among those beliefs is that America has committed terrible crimes against the Muslims.

"I know that guy as a good Muslim, trying his best to serve his belief," says Omar Azzam, Zawahri's cousin.

Although he hasn't seen him in more than 15 years, he says he can't believe al-Zawahri is the violent terrorist authorities say he is.

"Nobody received facts from the side of Ayman to say that he is the one responsible or he is the one not responsible," says Azzam.

But Professor Fandi believes that the case against al-Zawahri is as clear as is his importance to al Qaeda: "If you want to cripple the brain of the organization, the operational structure of the organization, you start with Ayman al-Zawahri, and then probably, if bin Laden dies along with him, that's fine."

"We have this sense that we've been led to believe you go in and you cut off the head -- the head is Osama bin Laden -- the rest will die," says Bradley to Fandi.

"I think the head is Ayman al-Zawahri," says Fandi. "If you cut off Osama bin Laden, the whole snake is still living, and that snake is Ayman al-Zawahri."

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