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Ayman al-Zawahiri

Bin Laden associate Ayman al-Zawahiri
Photo: U.S. State Dept.


Ayman al-Zawahiri
Zawahiri, an Egyptian, is said to be Osama bin Ladenís second in command and his main ideologue. Heís been with bin Laden since the 1980s, when they fought together in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Zawahiri helped found Islamic Jihad, the group that assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Zawahiri, now 50, served three years in prison for his role in that plot, and then left Egypt for Afghanistan.

But he remained the head of Islamic Jihad, which was blamed for an 1995 assassination attempt against President Hosni Mubarak and the bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Pakistan, as well as the 1997 massacre of foreign tourists in Luxor. al-Zawahiri was tried in absentia by an Egyptian court and was sentenced to death.

His expertise has helped turn bin Laden's al Qaeda network from a loosely affiliated group of like-minded terrorists into an organized network capable of carrying out extremely violent and carefully planned terrorist operations.

A surgeon by training, al-Zawahiri is also the author of several books on Islamic movements. According to a Cairo journalist who spoke to NPR's Melissa Block, al-Zawahiri says the United States is an enemy of Muslims and Arabs because of its policy in the Middle East and its anti-Islam policies all over the world.

Mohammed Atef

Bin Laden associate Mohammed Atef
Photo: U.S. State Dept.


Mohammad Atef
Osama bin Ladenís other top commander is an Egyptian, Mohammad Atef. He is considered the emir of bin Laden's military committee.

Atef and al-Zawahiri are credited with bringing the most violent and most carefully planned terrorist operations into the al Qaeda movement.

A comrade-in-arms who fought alongside the Saudi exile during the Afghan Wars, atef is responsible for carrying out plans formulated by bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. He gives the military orders and commands the al Qaeda network's field generals in Pakistan, Europe and elsewhere.

Earlier this year, one of Atef's daughters married one of bin Laden's sons in a ceremony that was broadcast on an Arab satellite channel. NPRís Melissa Block reports that the union was symbolic of the close links between bin Laden's al Qaeda group and Islamic Jihad, the group that assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Other Resources

ē See the complete list of suspects in the Sept. 11 atacks at the FBI Web site.