WORLD REACTS AS ZAWAHIRI IS SET TO SUCCEED HIM
Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian surgeon considered the real mastermind of the global terror franchise, is now set to succeed Osama bin Laden as the world's most wanted man.
Like his Saudi-born co-conspirator, Zawahiri has been hiding ever since the United States declared its war on terror after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Unlike his late comrade, who President Barack Obama said was killed by US forces in Pakistan, Zawahiri is presumed still at large with organisational skills, cunning and intelligence said to eclipse that of bin Laden.
Reportedly last seen in October 2001 in eastern Afghanistan, close to the Pakistan border, he has released multiple videos from his hiding, calling for war on the West.
While bin Laden was seen as Al-Qaeda's inspiration, his deputy is believed to be the real brains that steered operations, including the September 11 attacks, and as a result arguably even more dangerous.
The former eye surgeon's position as bin Laden's main strategist and mentor earned the 59-year-old a $25 million bounty on his head. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation's list of most wanted terrorists said he was also bin Laden's personal doctor.
As bin Laden withdrew from the public eye after 2004, it was often up to Zawahiri, identifiable by a prominent lump on his forehead to motivate the group's followers with a series of hectoring video appearances, jabbing his finger and staring from behind heavy-rimmed glasses.
Zawahiri met bin Laden when thousands of Islamist fighters from around the world flooded into Afghanistan during the 1980s 'jihad', or holy war, against Soviet forces.
Zawahiri hails from a wealthy Egyptian family. His father was a reputed physician and one of his grandfathers a prayer leader at Cairo's Al-Azhar institute, the highest authority for Sunni Muslims.
60-year-old Zawahiri became involved with Egypt's radical Muslim community at a young age and was reportedly arrested as young as 15 for being a member of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab world's oldest fundamentalist group.
He worked as a doctor treating wounded fighters and linked up with Arab Islamist militants who came to take part in the jihad including bin Laden.
In the early 1990s Zawahiri is believed to have lived in Europe before linking up again with bin Laden in Sudan or Afghanistan. He was arrested in 1996 in Russia after apparently trying to recruit jihadists for Chechnya.
In 1998 he was one of five signatories to bin Laden's 'fatwa' calling for attacks against US civilians and he began appearing regularly at the Al-Qaeda leader's side.
He is listed on the US government's indictment for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and he was sentenced to death in absentia by an Egyptian court a year later.
Zawahiri went into hiding after US-led and Afghan Northern Alliance forces toppled the fundamentalist Taliban in late 2001. The Taliban hosted bin Laden and Zawahiri and refused to hand them over after 9/11.
In January 2006 Zawahiri escaped a US missile raid on a village in Pakistan's remote tribal areas. Up to 18 others died, including four Al-Qaeda operatives and several civilians. In December 2001, reports said that Zawahiri's wife, son and two daughters had been killed in a US air raid on Kandahar, Afghanistan, part of the US-led military operation to topple the Taliban.