Ayman al-Zawahiri is the current leader of the al-Qa’ida terrorist group and a former leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. He was indicted in the United States for his role in the August 7, 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 224 civilians and wounded over 5,000 others.
With Usama bin Laden and other senior members of al-Qa’ida, al-Zawahiri is believed to have also plotted attacks on the USS Cole in Yemen on October 12, 2000, which killed 17 US sailors and injured another 39, and helped coordinate the September 11, 2001 attacks in which 19 al-Qa‘ida terrorists hijacked and crashed four US commercial jets—two into the World Trade Center in New York City, one into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and a fourth into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania—leaving nearly 3,000 people dead.
While al-Zawahiri now leads a small but influential cadre of senior leaders widely called al-Qa‘ida Core, the group’s cohesiveness the past few years has diminished because of leadership losses from counterterrorism pressure in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the rise of other organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) that serve as an alternative for some disaffected extremists. Nonetheless, al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East remain a resilient organization committed to conducting attacks in the United States and against American interests abroad.
Al-Zawahiri continues to record and disseminate messages, while al-Qa’ida has advanced a number of unsuccessful plots in the past several years, including against the United States and Europe. This highlights al-Qa‘ida’s ability to continue some attack preparations while under sustained counterterrorism pressure and suggests it may be plotting additional attacks against the United States at home or overseas.