Muntasir al-Zayyat: Zawahiri is alive
Al-Sharq al-Awsat for July 5, 2002, has an interview with the prominent Egyptian Muslim fundamentalist lawyer Muntasir al-Zayyat. He was close to al-Jihad al-Islami for many years and knew Ayman al-Zawahiri, its leader and Bin Ladin’s right hand man, intimately. The two fell out over al-Zayyat’s having gravitated to al-Gamaa al-Islamiyyah in the 1990s and his efforts in the mid-1990s to move the leadership of the radical fundamentalists in Tura prison to renounce terrorist violence. (These efforts proved successful with regard to al-Gamaa al-Islamiyyah from 1997 and resulted in the gradual release of all but 12,000 of the reported 20,000 – 30,000 imprisoned radical fundamentalists in subsequent years).
Zawahiri was, of course, moving in the opposite direction, melding the by then largely expatriate al-Jihad al-Islami with Bin Ladin’s al-Qaida in 1998. Zawahiri is among the masterminds of the 1998 embassy bombings in east Africa and of the 9/11 atrocities. Zawahiri attacked al-Zayyat over this shift, but as late as 1999 al-Zayyat defended Zawahiri from terrorism charges launched in absentia in Egypt.
He denounced him again in his memoirs, published on the Web last winter, to which al-Zayyat wrote a heated refutation.
Al-Zayyat reports that he is still in contact with persons who know Zawahiri well, and that they have intimated to him that Zawahiri is still alive. He was reported injured in early December during a U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan. Al-Zayyat says that Zawahiri’s wife, his son Muhammad, and the husband of one of his daughters died in the campaign, but that the rest of the family is safe.
Al-Zayyat is something of a maverick who has maintained his independence of close organizational ties and is currently on the outs with the leadership of the Gamaa Islamiyyah now that some of them have been released from jail. He was unusual among fundamentalists in acknowledging the authenticity of the tape of Bin Ladin and Sheikh al-Ghamdi/ al-Harbi released last fall. He has also been critical of the practice of radicals who have been released from jail suing the Egyptian government for damages and eliciting false testimony from comrades that they had witnessed the torture.