Al Qaeda leader's brother says terror group far from defeated
The brother of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mohamed al-Zawahiri.
August 1st, 2012
08:38 AM ET

Al Qaeda leader's brother says terror group far from defeated

[Updated August 3, 2012, with details]

In a modest house on a quiet street in Cairo, Mohamed al-Zawahiri is getting used to being a free man once again. He was released from prison in March, after serving more than a decade for conspiring to overthrow the Egyptian government. If the name is familiar, it should be. Mohamed is the younger brother of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and shares many of his views.

He is suspicious of the international media, and it took calls over several weeks before he would agree to meet with CNN at the family's home in the middle-class neighborhood of Maadi. It was his first interview with a western network.

Mohamed al-Zawahiri takes the long view when talking about the rise and endurance of al Qaeda.

"Before you call me and my brother terrorists, let's define its meaning. If it means those who are bloodthirsty merciless killers then this is not what we are about," he says. "We only try to regain some of our rights that have been hijacked by Western powers throughout history," al-Zawahiri told CNN.

Despite the deaths of many senior al Qaeda figures, Mohamed al-Zawahiri does not believe the organization led by his brother is a spent force.

"If you read American literature, now they have understood that the strength of Al Qaeda is not in its leaders but in its ideology. Any person obtains power when his work matches his principles. Those who reached martyrdom have won life on earth and Allah's heaven. Those who were killed by the US have shown us the light and proven that they have committed to their cause and spread the ideology," Al-Zawahiri said.

Listening in were his younger brother Hussain and oldest son Abdel Rahman. Mohamed credits the revolution that toppled long-time President Hosni Mubarak last year for his release from prison. He describes what had happened in Egypt as "merciful times."

A 1974 graduate of the engineering college at Cairo University, Mohamed al-Zawahiri left Egypt to work in Saudi Arabia. In 1981, along with both Ayman and Hussain, he was one of dozens charged in the conspiracy to assassinate President Anwar Sadat. Mohamed was acquitted in absentia and Hussain spent 13 months in prison before charges were dropped.

Ayman, the oldest brother, spent three years in prison. After he was released, he left Egypt to live in Saudi Arabia. He first met bin Laden on a visit to Peshawar, Pakistan in 1986. According to Human Rights Watch, the brothers spent some time together in Sudan in the early 1990s. Mohamed says he last saw his older brother in 1996 in Azerbaijan.

He also spent some time working for the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) as an architect, helping to build schools and hospitals. The IIRO had connections to the Saudi government but would later be accused of links to militant Islamist groups, including al Qaeda, and was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.

Mohamed al-Zawahiri also spent time in Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, where he was arrested in 1999 and subsequently sent back to Egypt.

"The UAE subjected me to horrible psychological and physical torture for four months," he alleges.

He claims that he was given drugs that weakened his nervous system. The UAE has denied claims he was tortured. Mohamed believes his brother's growing role in Islamist extremism was responsible for his arrest and secret deportation to Egypt – and says he was interrogated relentlessly about his brother's whereabouts.

"I was targeted simply because I am the brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri," he told CNN. "The US does not want his ideology to spread globally. Zawahiri says during his time in an Egyptian prison he was tortured by electrocution, sleep deprivation and beatings. He was permitted to shower only once every four months and was kept in a tiny cell with no windows. All the while, his family had no clue whether he was alive or dead. He had simply disappeared.

In 2004 an Arabic newspaper based in London reported he was still alive and held at a high security prison in Cairo, and published a photograph of him. The Egyptian authorities confirmed he was being held. Despite or maybe because of his long incarceration, Mohamed al-Zawahiri is unrepentant about his beliefs.

"If the West wants to live in peace then they must give the Muslims their rights back. Occupation of our lands is one thing, but interference in our religious beliefs is the worst kind of breach of human rights. We only want to build our Islamic nations the way we like it and want no confrontation with the West as long as they stop occupying our land, killing innocent women and children and above all interfering in our religious beliefs," al-Zawahiri said.

"We call for fasting, prayers, spreading Allah's word and Jihad if we are attacked or restricted from practicing our religion. In this case, we invite the oppressor first into the Islamic community to learn our religion. If they refuse, and we are stopped from spreading our religion, then Allah has ordered us to confront them, and this is Jihad," Al-Zawahiri said.

When asked if he believes the United States is a legitimate target for attack, al-Zawahiri says: "He who kills our women and children should not be sad when I kill his. I tell them not to lead us into a cycle of violence. Your interest so that we all live in peace is to avoid following world leaders who use Islamists as an excuse to ignite this war for their own gains."

Now that Mubarak is gone, Mohamed Al-Zawahiri continues to dream of an Egypt governed by Shariah law. He has little time for democracy as it's recognized in the West.

And he believes the example of Turkey, where a party with Islamist foundations embraces a system of secular, constitutional government with regular elections.

"I don't believe in constitutions, or this secular system created by America to distort the true Islam like we see in the Turkey model. Democracy is not against dictatorship as some try to portray it. It is against Allah's supreme authority, against Islam," he insists. Read a full transcript of the interview

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Filed under: Al Qaeda • Al-Zawahiri • Terrorism
soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. bastille history

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    December 20, 2012 at 11:29 am | Reply
  2. vhjjtreffgh

    A TOTAL LIE NOT EVEN CLOSE

    August 2, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  3. jgftyuhvfgj

    NAME CALLING ASIDE: WHAT IS ALL THIS VERBAL KICKING THE DOG STUFF ABOUT

    August 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Reply
  4. jgftyuhvfgj

    SO IF YOUR A BROWN RACIST TERRORIST YOU MUST EXPECT TO BECOME INBREAD AS A PEOPLE AT SOME POINT YET ALL BROWN RACIST TERRORISTS SEEM TO TALK ABOUT IS HOW DUMB EVERYONE ELES IS AS A PROBLEM NOW THAT IS INTERESTING

    August 2, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  5. jgftyuhvfgj

    TERROISTS ARE ORGANIZED TO FAIL EVEN WHEN THEIR WORK IS FINISHED

    August 2, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Reply
  6. jgftyuhvfgj

    WHY DEMAND THINGS OF OTHERS WHEN ALL ONE NEEDS TO DO IS SWIM TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA

    August 2, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Reply
  7. jgftyuhvfgj

    SO THESE TERROISTS PUT ALL THEIR FAITH IN PEOPLE YET TURN AROUND & ATTACK PEOPLE WITH DEADLY FORCE BECAUSE THEY ARE PEOPLE

    SINCE PEOPLE ARE FLAWED AS THE TERRORIST PEOPLE CLAIM THEN WHY DONT THEY JUST KILL THEMSELVES NOT OTHER FLAWED PEOPLE

    August 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Reply
  8. xcvjkufg

    OTHER PEOPLE GO AROUND AND KILL PEOPLE BECAUSE THEY DONT HAVE THE CORRECT BEARD STYLE YET THEY LEAVE THE CHINESE ALONE GO FIGURE...

    August 2, 2012 at 9:58 am | Reply
  9. xcvjkufg

    YET EVERYONE BELIVES IN SOMTHING JUST NOT ALWAYS IN BROWN PEOPLES BEARDS

    August 2, 2012 at 9:54 am | Reply
  10. xcvjkufg

    I THOUGHT ISLAM WAS NEWEST IN THE EVER EVOLVING LINE OF RELIGIOUSITY YOU KNOW THE THING THE JEWS STARTED

    August 2, 2012 at 9:51 am | Reply
  11. xcvjkufg

    AND OF THOSE PEOPLE HOW MANY ARE TELLING OTHER PEOPLE THAT THEY ARE CHIT CHATTING WITH GOD

    August 2, 2012 at 9:49 am | Reply
  12. xcvjkufg

    SO... TERRORISM AND RELIGION HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH ONE ANOTHER AND GOD NEVER SAID THERE IS OR WOULD BE...JUST WONDERING HOW MANY PEOPLE ACTUALY THINK THEY ARE TALKING WITH GOD ON A REGULAR BAISIS

    August 2, 2012 at 9:46 am | Reply
  13. Aleksandr

    US have lost 2 imperialist war in Iraq and Afgan.Two weak states! Why don't they invade the powerful like Russia and China or DPRK and Iran?? Cowards!! TAKBIR

    August 2, 2012 at 8:14 am | Reply
  14. 66th Strategic Command & Operations Unit.

    They aren't defeated but aren't capable of carrying out any large scale attacks anymore for now, The ideology the Taliban & Al Qaeda have is modified version of what the normal Islamic teachings are, They make it so it's believable to those who practice Islam that they must murder etc to stay worthy, Like extreme forms of Christianity one says love all your brothers the other says hate gays & there is only 1 god just as they Islamic extremist believe .

    August 2, 2012 at 5:43 am | Reply
  15. TORPEDO

    THIS IDIOT DON'T KNOW THE MEANING OF ISLAM OR RELIGION.HE SAID THAT HE AND HIS BROTHER BELIEVE IN SHARIA LAW?? KILLING HIS OWN PEOPLE??? WHAT A JERK. HE REALLY NEEDS PROFESSIONAL HELP!

    August 2, 2012 at 4:58 am | Reply
  16. TheGreenMan

    Why does CNN give free publicity to that miserable bearded sod whose sole aim in life is to make other people miserable.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:05 am | Reply
  17. draggin

    What a hypocrite he says you can't infringe on peoples religous beliefs but turns around and says if you don't become muslim we'll kill you

    August 1, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Reply
    • Thor

      lol best comment on this thread

      August 2, 2012 at 12:54 am | Reply
  18. Kent in Dallas TX

    Name..ur..

    Please learn to write reasonably good English, with spealling, grammar & punctuation before you post any more comments English-language blogs.

    Also please learn middle school & high school level history & geography.

    Please quit wasting other peoples time with meaningless nonsense.

    August 1, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Reply
  19. Boo

    Who's this coward trying to convince.....the rest of the world or himself and his cowardly compatriots....

    August 1, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Reply
    • Name*ur jew

      Ass wipe....the west was in caves, walking on all fours. Islam will cannot be stopped, ask the crudaers. GOD. Is god not great.

      August 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Reply
      • AcclaimedMan

        Islam will be fvcked !!!

        August 1, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  20. dghkxuej

    what is terrible straw monster you call the west and why is it a zero sum game where the game always changes as needed and but only one side of a double headed coin can ever show itself up i.e. the wrong side– you should realize that being free to say what ever you want does require you to use facts

    August 1, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Reply
  21. dghkxuej

    or set free by the west

    August 1, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  22. dghkxuej

    and not jailed by the west eather

    August 1, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  23. dghkxuej

    that's not a idiology that is lowbrow BS maskerading as a marketing recriutment tool and reasonless reason for being both jailed and set free

    August 1, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Reply
  24. Saeed's mom

    Saeed...I told you to stay in your room if you didnt milk the goat! And stop talking about killing soldiers, or I'll suck you dry again tonight.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Reply
    • Sodomite

      I'll bet your own mom wishes she had aborted you.

      August 1, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  25. BRBAYBE

    So I'm curious what he believes the U.S. did BEFORE the bombing of the USS Cole AND BEFORE the bombing of the "twin towers" garage in '93 ... was the U.S. killing Islamists before then? This man has a very skewed view indeed!

    August 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
    • Paul

      Actually, the U.S. was killing Islamists before the USS Cole attack. Everything Zawahiri is saying is very true.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:40 am | Reply
      • Paul

        What thee U.S. did was occupy Saudi land during the first gulf war.

        August 2, 2012 at 12:41 am |
  26. Phunnie boy

    Gee whiz, ever since I read this article, I've been shaking in my shoes, I have, I have! Something needs to be done about these here Al Qaeda, really it does, it does indeed.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  27. Chris

    Their are too many holes to fill in this strange mans ideology. I mean if you listen to his words than one would think that his brothers organization should be fighting against themselves they kill Muslim men women and children, they are trying to change Islamic teaching ect. Someone really needs to inform this guy what he has missed in the past decade.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  28. Towel Heads

    Towel Heads IS what Towel Heads do.

    August 1, 2012 at 9:48 am | Reply
    • Sodomite

      Ahhhhhhh..........I get it now. You have Tourettes.

      August 1, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply
  29. Hey Mr Taliban

    Hay Mr. Taliban tally me dead terrorists day light come and me wanna go home.

    August 1, 2012 at 9:46 am | Reply
    • Sodomite

      Another illiterate, repugnant cretin. "Hay", indeed.

      August 1, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply
  30. saeed

    1 Taliban high warrior can with ease take out 30 British marines and commandos hit after hit with a ak 47 to the flat face of a marine. Tungsten bullet after a bullet to the flat turkey face of a British or Australian or Irish soldier.

    August 1, 2012 at 8:43 am | Reply
    • saeedTheTowelHead

      Baaaaaaaaaaaah, Baaaaaaaaaaaah, Baaaaaaaaaaaaaah, Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaddy?

      August 1, 2012 at 9:45 am | Reply
      • Sodomite

        Really? Thats the absolute best you can do? Day after day, week after week, month after month, it's all the same. When, or if, you try to actually think, does it result in crippling pain? If so, see a doctor.

        August 1, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Chris

      Did anyone actually understand what saeed said?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Reply
      • Boo

        He's a head case....ignore him....

        August 1, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • YoungMarine

      30 marines could take out 1000 towel heads marines have a very tought training program towel heads are just handed ak-47s

      August 1, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Reply
      • Sodomite

        If that's the case, then why are we still in Afghanistan? I think it's time you look up the word "hubris".

        August 1, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
      • 66th Strategic Command & Operations Unit.

        It's also been a costly conflict for the U.S a lesson learned by Russia back in the USSR days.

        August 2, 2012 at 5:45 am |

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