Ex-comrade fires Zawahri
warning By Muhammad Tahir
With the confirmation of Ayman al-Zawahri
as the new leader of al-Qaeda, there has been much
speculation as to whether the terrorist
organization will change its tactics with him at
Not much is known about the
Egyptian militant, who security analysts believe
is most likely to be hiding in the
Afghan-Pakistani border region.
who is more familiar than most with Osama bin
Laden's former second in command is Tawfik Hamid,
the current occupant of the Chair for the Study of
Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute for
Policy Studies in Washington and the author of the
book Inside Jihad.
Hamid is a former member of the Egyptian terror
organization Jamaa Islamiya,
and in that capacity he met Zawahri on several
Based on his familiarity with
Zawahri's mindset, Hamid warns that al-Qaeda's new
leader is likely to steer the group onto an even
more aggressive course and may be intent on
inflicting "any form of pain" on those he sees as
Extreme desire for
revenge Hamid says such an approach could
include "attacking children in some nursery" or
directly targeting civilians in places like
restaurants or subway stations in the United
According to Hamid, Zawahri would
be willing to use the "simplest" of weapons "to do
things that can give maximum pain". Hamid suggests
that a change in tactics could result from factors
that include Zawahri's own character and his
extreme desire for revenge.
reflected in the al-Qaeda statement about
Zawahri's appointment and in a high-quality
propaganda video released several weeks ago, which
called non-members to become active participants
in the jihadi movement.
"I think," says
Hamid, "that there is also a cultural dimension
that makes us believe that, compared to his
predecessor, Zawahri's actions are going to be
more violent, and this was clear from his latest
videotape, where he hinted about the start of a
new era of confrontation."
To begin with,
says Hamid, there is Zawahri's deeply ingrained
desire for vengeance against his perceived enemies
- a desire that is likely to have been aggravated
by the killing of Bin Laden.
"This is a
common cultural thing, to take revenge; we call it
'atar'," he says.
"Atar is a
form of revenge; it's very common in Arab
cultures, especially in Egypt ... It is very
powerful in the minds of many, many, many
Unlike Bin Laden, says Hamid,
Zawahri was radicalized as a young man and
gravitated early on to militant organizations that
aimed to overthrow the Egyptian government. He is
believed to have formed his first cell of
militants at the age of 16, and ended up spending
large portions of his life in Egyptian prisons.
He is likely to have endured repeated
bouts of torture - an experience that might have
contributed to his radicalization. Whatever the
reasons, it is clear that, over the years, he
developed an extreme hatred for the leaders of his
own country and those who supported them.
Like Bin Laden, Zawahri was ultimately
expelled from his homeland and later joined the
Afghan struggle against the Soviet invaders in the
Hindu Kush in the 1980s. Also like Bin Laden, he
did not return to his homeland afterward.
Waiting to see ... Hamid
suggests that while Zawahri may try to turn
al-Qaeda's attention back to his native Egypt, he
is unlikely to do so immediately. First, predicts
Hamid, Zawahri will wait to see the outcome of the
upcoming elections and the future path of Egypt's
"If the Muslim Brotherhood
took power and they started to implement sharia
law as the al-Qaeda-Taliban want to see, they
would be happy with that," he says. "And that's
why they are happy with the Arab revolution up to
this very moment, because they are expecting the
next stage will be the sharia stage."
such a situation fails to materialize, however,
and Egypt continues along a "path of relative
secularism", Hamid warns that things could quickly
turn violent in the country.
"I am afraid
they may try to create a situation of chaos by
carrying out some terror attacks to weaken the
economy," he says, adding that the aim would be to
destabilize the country and create poverty that
"can work actually for the benefit of the
US still a primary
target Hamid, who claims to have predicted
the London and Madrid bombings after 9/11, thinks
that, while Zawahri may try to influence events in
Egypt, the United States will remain a primary
In Hamid's view, Zawahri's
opposition to the US goes beyond his affiliation
with al-Qaeda and is deeper than Bin Laden's
animosity toward the West.
Laden, Zawahri suffered mistreatment directly at
the hands of a regime that was closely tied to the
Moreover, Hamid believes,
Zawahri is more deeply steeped than Bin Laden in
the explicitly anti-US ideology of the late
radical Egyptian Islamist thinker Sayyid Qutb.
"He is a student of Sayyid Qutb ... and he
was actually brainwashed by his teachings," says
Hamid. "One of the early things that changed
Sayyid Qutb and made him radical was coming to
America and seeing what he considered un-Islamic
Despite widespread speculation
about possible rifts within al-Qaeda that may have
delayed the announcement of Zawahri's succession,
Hamid does not share the view that al-Qaeda is
fragmenting. "These people do not divide, unless
you make a significant change in style," he says.
"For example, if al-Zawahri today said,
'Oh, we will be friends to Americans and Israelis
with a peaceful attitude', they will divide. But
as long as it takes the same direction it has,
these things are usually pre-planned, who will
If Zawahri gives full rein to
his radical instincts, al-Qaeda may end up staging
attacks that kill even more innocents - ultimately
leading to a backlash that could severely weaken
the organization, according to Hamid.
the meantime, however, Hamid warns that the West
should expect little softening of al-Qaeda's
course under its new leader.