FaithWorld

Ayman al-Zawahri: Suburban doctor who became chief of al Qaeda

(Ayman al-Zawahri speaks from an unknown location, in this still image taken from video uploaded on a social media website June 8, 2011/Reuters TV)

 

The Egyptian who has taken the helm of al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden did not emerge from the crowded slums of Egypt’s sprawling capital a militant or develop his ideas in any religious college or seminary. Instead, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri was raised in Cairo’s leafy Maadi suburb where comfortable villas are a favourite among expatriates from the Western nations he rails against. He studied at Cairo University and qualified as a doctor.

The son of a pharmacology professor was not unique in his generation. Many educated youngsters were outraged at the treatment of Islamists in the 1960s when Egypt veered towards a Soviet-style one-party state under socialist Gamal Abdel Nasser. Thousands of people suspected of subversion were thrown into prison after show trials. “Zawahri is one of the many victims of the Nasser regime who had deep political grievances and a feeling of shame at Egypt’s defeat by Israel in 1967. He grew up a radical,” said Khalil al-Anani, an expert in Islamist movements at Durham University.

He rose to be al Qaeda’s No. 2 before taking over as leader after bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces at his Pakistan hideout on May 2, almost 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Born in 1951 to a prominent Cairo family, Zawahri was a grandson of the grand imam of Al Azhar, one of the most important mosques in the Muslim world. As he studied for a masters in surgery in the 1970s, Zawahri was active in a movement that later became Islamic Jihad, which aimed to expel the government and establish an Islamic state.

Bin Laden sea burial not in line with Islam, Muslim clerics say

(Aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, from which Osama bin Laden was buried at sea somewhere in the north Arabian Sea/U.S. Navy)

Clerics in Saudi Arabia, a staunch U.S. ally and the country of Osama bin Laden’s birth, dismissed Washington’s assertions it observed Islamic rites in disposing of the al Qaeda leader’s body in the Arabian Sea. Bin Laden, shot dead by U.S. forces in a raid on a compound in Pakistan on Monday, was placed in a weighted bag and dropped into the north Arabian Sea from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier, the Carl Vinson, the U.S. military said.

But many Muslims in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf Arab region, including opponents to bin Laden’s militant ideology, said the fact funeral rites were read for him did not diminish their shock at the way his body was disposed of.

Timeline: Life and Death of Osama bin Laden

(Osama bin Laden speaks in this still image taken from video released on a website September 7, 2007. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a mansion outside the Pakistani capital Islamabad, a U.S. source said on May 1, 2011/Reuters TV)

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a firefight with U.S. forces in Pakistan and his body was recovered, President Barack Obama announced on Monday.

Here is a timeline of major events in bin Laden’s life.

1957 – Osama bin Mohammad bin Awad bin Laden born in Riyadh, one of more than 50 children of millionaire businessman. There are conflicting accounts of his precise date of birth.

Sacred Shi’ite ritual tests Pakistan’s security resolve

ashura (Photo: Shi’ite men at an Ashura procession in Peshawar, January 19, 2008/Ali Imam)

Pakistan is deploying tens of thousands of paramilitary soldiers and police ahead of a religious festival that could be a major security test for authorities struggling to contain militant violence. Many of Pakistan’s minority Shi’ite Muslims, who make up 15 percent of the population, will be vulnerable to suicide bombings when they stage large rallies Friday to mark Ashura, the biggest event in their calendar.

Highlighting concerns, paramilitary forces carry people away on stretchers in mock exercises televised live. Officials say army soldiers will be on standby. Recent suicide bombings carried out in defiance of a series of military offensives which the government describe as successful highlighted U.S. ally Pakistan’s instability.

“Ashura is going to be very tense. There is a danger of terrorists trying to attack processions. We are taking all possible measures to avert that,” a senior security official said.

A review of Christian-Muslim conflict and a modest proposal to counter it

conflict 1At a Christian-Muslim conference in Geneva this week, participants agreed to build a network for “peace teams” to intervene in crises where religious differences are invoked as the cause of the dispute. The idea is that religious differences may not be the real problem in a so-called religious conflict, but rather a means to mobilise the masses in a dispute that actually stems from political or economic rivalries. (Photo: Coffins of two of 52 killed in al-Qaeda-linked attack last Sunday on a Baghdad church, 2 Nov 2010/Thaier al-Sudani)

If outside experts could help disentangle religion from the other issues, the argument goes, that could help neutralise religion’s capacity to mobilise and inflame, in the hope of leading to a de-escalation of the crisis.

Is this idealistic? Maybe. However, given the number of crises throughout the world that have religion factored into the equation, it certainly seems worth the effort. Many of these conflicts are not simply battles between religious fanatics, as they may be presented, but calculated agitation by one group against another, usually for political or economic advantage. Some smokescreens are easy to see through, others almost impenetrable.

Fate of Iraqi Christians will worsen, Catholic experts fear

baghdad church funeral 2 (Photo: Mourners at a 2 Nov 2010 funeral for victims of the attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Church/Saad Shalash)

With al-Qaeda declaring war on Christians in Iraq and no end to political instability in sight, Catholic experts on the Middle East fear the fate of the minority Christian community there will only worsen.

The pessimism followed the bloodiest attack against Iraq’s Christian minority since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Fifty-two hostages and police were killed on Sunday when security forces stormed a church that had been raided by al-Qaeda-linked gunmen.

The bloodbath struck fear deep into the hearts of remaining Iraqi Christians and confirmed some of the worst concerns of a Vatican summit on the Middle East held last month that warned of a continuing exodus of Christians from the lands of the Bible.