al-Zawahiri, born in Egypt in 1951, succeeded Osama bin Laden as the head of Al-Qaeda following his death at the hands of U.S. forces in 2011.
al-Zawahiri had been indicted for his alleged role in the Aug. 7, 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya.
He was also the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the terrorist organization blamed for the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat in 1981, according to The New York Times.
al-Zawahiri’s loss eliminates the figure who more than anyone shaped Al-Qaeda, first as Osama bin Laden’s deputy since 1998, then as his successor. Together, he and bin Laden focused the jihadi movement’s efforts on targeting the United States, carrying out the deadliest attack ever on American soil — the Sept. 11, 2001 suicide hijackings.
“It’s impossible, probably, to overstate how significant Ayman al-Zawahiri was as a terrorist,” NewsNation anchor Leland Vittert said on “Morning in America.” “He’s the father of modern-day Sunni Islamic terrorism.”
The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001 made bin Laden America’s Enemy No. 1. But he likely could never have carried it out without al-Zawahiri. Bin Laden provided Al-Qaeda with charisma and money, but al-Zawahiri brought tactics and organizational skills needed to forge militants into a network of cells in countries around the world.
Their partnership was forged in the late 1980s, when al-Zawahiri reportedly treated the Saudi millionaire bin Laden in the caves of Afghanistan as Soviet bombardment shook the mountains around them.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.