Following confirmation of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, Jubilation was the natural reaction. In America, U.S. citizens converged on the white house to celebrate a taste of delayed Justice after the horrific 9/11 attack.
Celebration however can not allow the world to drop its guard, the death of Bin Laden will no doubt motivate Al-Qaeda to seek revenge and retaliation. Whilst Bin Laden is now dead, the vacum he leaves will be immediately filled and most likely by Ayman Muhammad Rabaie al-Zawahiri.
60 year old Al-Zawahiri is in fact far more dangerous than Bin Laden. He has a long sinister history and joined the Muslim Brotherhood at age 14. He was the second and last "emir" of Egyptian Islamic Jihad in Egypt. Al-Zawahiri a qualified surgeon has a deep and radical understanding of Islamic theology and Islamic history, and speaks Arabic, English and French and has worked in al-Qaeda since its inception.
While he was described as a "lieutenant" to Osama bin Laden, he was in fact the "real brains" of Al-Qaeda as confirmed by a biographer chosen by Bin Laden.
Al-Zawahiri was born to a prominent upper middle class family in “Maadi” Egypt, (a suburb of Cairo). His father Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, was a pharmacologist and chemistry professor, his mother Umayma Azzam, came from a wealthy, politically active clan. Whilst his family was "religious but not overly pious", Zawahiri became both pious and political, under the influence of his uncle Mahfouz Azzam.
When he joined the Muslim Brotherhood at age 14, Al-Zawahiri along with four other secondary school students, helped form an "underground cell devoted to overthrowing the Egyptian government and establishing an Islamist state. His cell eventually merged with others to form al-Jihad or Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Al-Zawahiri graduating from Cairo University in 1974, he served three years as a surgeon in the Egyptian Army then established a clinic near his parents and earned a master's degree in surgery in 1978.
He eventually became leader and recruiter of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad organisation. Al- Zawahiri’s ambition was to recruit military officers and accumulate weapons, with the intent to launch "a complete overthrow of the existing Government.
The plan was to kill the main leaders of the country, capture the headquarters of the army, State Security, the telephone exchange building, and of course the radio and television buildings, where news of the Islamic revolution would then be broadcast, unleashing a popular Islamic uprising against secular authority all over the country.
The plan fell apart when authorities were alerted and President Anwar Sadat ordered the roundup of more than 1500 Islamic radicals mostly brotherhood members, including many Al-Jihad members. They however missed a cell within the military led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, who organised the assassination of Sadat during a military parade in October 1981.
Al-Zawahiri was one of hundreds arrested following Sadat's assassination and alleged he was tortured in prison. While in prison Al-Zawahiri revealed the hiding place of Essam al-Qamari, a key member of the Maadi cell of al-Jihad, which led to Al-Qamari's arrest and eventual execution. Al-Zawahiri escaped execution and was convicted of the lesser charge of dealing in weapons receiving a three-year sentence, he was then released 1984.
In 1985, Al-Zawahiri left Egypt, went to Saudi Arabia on Hajj, and then travelled to Peshawar Pakistan a year later.
There he became friends with the Canadian Ahmed Khadr, the two shared a number of conversations about the need for Islamic government and the needs of the Afghan people. During this time al-Zawahiri also began reconstituting the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) along with other exiled militants. In 1991, EIJ broke with al-Zumur, and al-Zawahiri grabbed "the reins of power" to become EIJ leader.
It is also in Peshawar that he met Osama Bin Laden, who was running a base for mujahedeen later known as Al-Qaeda, “The Base”. Zawahiri was able to travel as he carried two false passports, a Swiss one in the name of Amin Uthman and a Dutch one in the name of Mohmud Hifnawi.
Zawahiri also studied the 1979 Islamist Islamic Revolution and "sought training from the Iranians" as to how to duplicate the same against the Egyptian government. To gain favour with Iran he gave up information about an Egyptian government plan to storm several islands in the Persian Gulf that both Iran and the United Arab Emirates lay claim to. In return for this information, the Iranian government paid Zawahiri $2 million and helped train members of al-Jihad in a coup attempt that never actually took place.
With the current upheaval in Egypt and the rise of the Salafist movement following the release of 1600 Islamic radicals it is anticipated Al-Zawahiri will again renew and strengthen his ties with the newly freed radicals in his homeland.
In April last year Al-Qaeda planned and executed the bombing of a Syrian Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad that left 53 people dead. At the time of the bombing, Al-Qaeda made direct threats against the Coptic Church and demanded the “release of 2 Coptic women” they alleged converted to Islam. The Salafists in Egypt took up the cause and maintained weekly protests after Friday Islamic prayers, slandering His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and continued the call for the women to be “released.
In December 2010 an Al-Qaeda website published a list of Coptic Christians "Coptic dogs in diaspora" and churches around the world for assassination and terror attacks. The list contained names, addresses and phone numbers of the Copts as well as addresses of specific churches to be targeted.
On New Years Eve, the All Saints church in Alexandria was attacked by a deadly bomb blast killing 23 worshippers as mass was concluding.
Last week the Salafists in Egypt again demonstrated outside the Papal Cathedral demanding the “release of the alleged converts”, the Egyptian army rather than deal with them under rule of law, caved into their demands and agreed to produce the women on national TV to confirm their status.
Whilst we all welcome the death of the radical Islamist Osama Bin Laden, the Coptic community is apprehensive they will become targets and Egypt will become another base for al-Qaeda.
It will be interesting to see how the ruling military deal with the Salafists in light of the latest developments.