by Florian Flade
Muhammad az-Zawahiri – Brother of Al-Qaida´s No.2
In the mid 1960s, Ayman az-Zawahiri and his younger brother Muhammad once walked home from morning prayers in the Cairo neighborhood of Maadi. A car stopped next to the young boys. It was the car of Hussain al-Shaffay, Egypt´s Vice-President and former judge responsible for the death sentences of numerous Islamists in the 1954 trials. Al-Shaffay offered the Az-Zawahiri brothers to drive them home. The boys rarely had the opportunity to ride in a car. Somehow Ayman az-Zawahiri immediately knew who the man in the car was. He knew about the round-up of Islamists in the 1950s and the regimes´brutal oppression of Islamic opposition.
“We don’t want to get a ride from a man who participated in the courts that killed Muslims”, Zawahiri responded to Al-Shaffay´s offer.
Fifteen years later, Ayman az-Zawahiri became one of the most popular Islamists in the country, a firebrand student and member of the Al-Jihad Group. His younger brother Muhammad also joined the Islamist movement of the 1970s, even rose to the position of the group´s military leader.
Muhammad az-Zawahiri studied architecture. In 1981 he – as well as dozens of other Egyptian Islamists – was indicted in absentia for the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. At that time Muhammad az-Zawahiri worked as an architect in the Holy City of Medina in Saudi-Arabia. His brother Ayman also moved to the Saudi Kingdom in 1985 to work as a doctor in the Ibn al-Nafis Hospital in Jiddah. In addition he began work for an Islamic Relief Organization, traveling to Asia and Europe in order to help building hospitals.
In the early 1990s Muhammad Zawahiri founded a Al-Jihad Cell in the Albanian capital of Tirana before moving with his wife and six children to Yemen. On a trip to Khartoum (Sudan), Muhammad Zawahiri met with his brother Ayman who had then started to work with Arab Mujahidin which had fought the Soviets in Afghanistan.
While Ayman Zawahiri decided to closely ally the Egyptian Al-Jihad with the Arab Mujahidin groups associated with Osama Bin Laden, Muhammad Zawahiri broke off and went back to Yemen, leaving Al-Jihad in 1998.
In July 1998, CIA agents and their Albanian allies stepped in against the Al-Jihad members in Tirana, arresting five Egyptian militants and sending them back to Egypt were they were interrogated and tortured, resulting in a 20,000-pages confession which led to the Egyptian courts to sentence the two Zawahiri brothers to death in absentia.
Muhammad az-Zawahiri, who resided in Yemen, traveled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) regularly for business. On one of these trips in April 1999, he was arrested and extradited to Egypt. Az-Zawahiri´s wife who contacted the Egyptian embassy in Yemeni capital Sanaa, was told in October 1999 she was allowed to return to Egypt, where her husband was imprisoned.
Years have past without any word about Muhammad az-Zawahiri´s whereabouts. A Egyptian newspaper reported in February 2004, the younger brother of al-Qaida´s No.2 man, was being held at Liman Tora Prison, south of Cairo. Egypt´s Interior Ministry confirmed the report the following month. Allegedly Muhammad az-Zawahiri faced torture and brutal interrogation for years.
Yesterday Jihadi Online Forums announced the release of “Sheikh Muhammad az-Zawahiri”. A video was then posted on several websites apparently showing the 57-year old leaving prison. A security source told the media on Thursday that the release of az-Zawahiri was a decision of the military junta that runs the country since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak, who ordered the release of 59 detainees, most of them members of opposition groups.