Friday, May 16, 2008

Is Ayman al-Zawahiri a Russian Agent?

The Jamestown Foundation published this article on January 15, 2004.

A RUSSIAN AGENT AT THE RIGHT HAND OF BIN LADEN?

By Evgenii Novikov [See his biography]

The Arabic television channel Al Jazeera broadcast an audiotape on December 19, 2003, that was said to be from Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the right hand man of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. In it, Zawahiri claimed that his group was chasing Americans everywhere, including in the United States. This claim helped raise the terror threat level.

But where is Zawahiri, whose head now carries a price of US$25 million? Recent media reports have said that he is hiding in Iran, though Iranian authorities deny this. Yet it could be that Russian intelligence knows exactly where he is and may even have regular contact with the elusive Egyptian.

Zawahiri as Prisoner

There are many accounts of Ayman al-Zawahiri published in the press. These stories cover Zawahiri's childhood and his relatives, his study of medicine, his connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, his involvement in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, his close relations with Osama bin Laden, and his role in major terrorist attacks against the United States. But there are few authors who mention that Zawahiri spent half a year in close contact with representatives of Russian intelligence while in their custody.

Significantly, these contacts led to a change in Zawahiri's political orientation. Long talks with Russian intelligence officers "forced a critical change in his lethal planning. ...America, not Egypt, became the target... Freed from Russian jail in May 1997, Dr. Zawahri found refuge in Afghanistan, yoking his fortunes to Mr. bin Laden. [Zawahiri's group] Egyptian Jihad, previously devoted to the narrow purpose of toppling secular rule in Egypt, became instead the biggest component of al Qaeda and a major agent of a global war against America. Dr. Zawahri became Mr. bin Laden's closest confidant and talent scout." [1]

The story of Zawahiri's Russian experience begins on December 1, 1996, when he was traveling under the alias "Mr. Amin" along with two of his officers--Ahmad Salama Mabruk, who ran Egyptian Jihad's cell in Azerbaijan under the cover of a trading firm called Bavari-C, and Mahmud Hisham al-Hennawi, a militant widely traveled in Asia. The group was accompanied by a Chechen guide. They were trying to enter Russia between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains in an effort to discover whether Chechnya could become a base for training militants. It was here that the group was arrested by Russian police for a lack of visas. They were soon handed over to the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB. [See the full text]

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