Doctor, Teacher, Terrorist: The Life and Legacy of Al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri – Dr Sajjan Gohel


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An RSAA lecture with Dr. Sajjan Gohel.

For over half a century, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri repeatedly emerged from the shadows as a vengeful ideologue hell-bent on changing history. Here, Sajjan Gohel provides the first definitive biography of one of the world’s most wanted terrorists. From an illustrious Egyptian family of lawyers, clergy, and politicians, al-Zawahiri was destined to become a successful doctor. Yet, he turned his back on society believing it to be heretical and immoral and subsequently dedicated himself to a life of sedition and violent rebellion against the international order.

Across multiple generations, the Egyptian found himself at the center of history. His journey traverses through Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, as well as the United States and Russia. Through his close bond with Osama bin Laden, al-Zawahiri oversaw the growth of al-Qaeda and the evolution of its ideology, tactics, and strategy. With the deft touch of a teacher, al-Zawahiri delegated numerous murderous assignments. He engaged in assassinating political leaders, pursued chemical and biological weapons, recruited double and triple agents, turned the tables on his enemies, and pioneered new media technology to broadcast al-
Qaeda’s zealotry.

Succeeding bin Laden as the commander of al-Qaeda in 2011, al-Zawahiri collaborated with shadowy elements in Pakistan and Iran as the terrorist group reconstituted itself in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. After 40 years on the run, he was finally killed by a US drone in 2022 after his Taliban allies reconquered Afghanistan. Yet the organisation and ideology he developed are far from dead, and his legacy is likely to be enduring.