Egyptian national and Al Qaeda’s top dog Ayman Al-Zawahiri, 69, has died in Afghanistan likely of natural causes, several sources in Pakistan and Afghanistan told Arab News this week, just days after reports of the Al-Qaeda leader’s passing made the rounds on social media.
Zawahiri’s last appearance was in a video message on this year’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
His death, if confirmed, opens up a deep leadership vacuum within Al-Qaeda as at least two senior commanders who would have been in line to replace him have been killed recently: Hamza bin Laden, a son of slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a US counter-terrorism operation, the White House announced last year; and Abu Muhamamd Al-Masri, believed to be Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, who was killed in Iran this year, according to media reports.
Arab News spoke to at least four security sources in Pakistan and Afghanistan to confirm Zawahiri’s death. Two said he had died. All spoke off the record as they were not authorized to speak to the media on the issue.
“He [Zawahiri] died last week in Ghazni,” an Al-Qaeda translator who still enjoys close ties with the group, told Arab News on Tuesday. “He died of asthma because he had no formal treatment.”
A Pakistani security official based in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan also said Zawahiri had died.
“We believe he is no longer alive,” he said, declining to be named. “We are firm that he has died of natural causes.”
A source close to Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan told Arab News on Monday that the militant leader had passed away this month, November, and a limited number of followers had attended his funeral prayers.
Commenting on the news of Zawahiri’s death, internationally known multi-award-winning anti-jihadist journalist and counterterrorism expert Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury said: “From a practical standpoint, it hardly matters whether or not Ayman Zawahiri has died. We need to remember; Al Qaeda is not based around the charismatic leadership of a single individual. I think this notorious jihadist group will continue as it has continued following the death of Osama Bin Laden.”