Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri was the former leader of al-Qaeda from June 2011 until his death in July 2022. He was killed in a US operation in Afghanistan.


Ayman al-Zawahiri was born in 1951 in the Giza area of Cairo, Egypt, to Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri and Umayma Azzam.

According to the New York Times, al-Zawahiri comes from “a prosperous and prestigious family that gives him a pedigree grounded firmly in both religion and politics.” The family descended from the Harbi clan of Zawahir, a tiny village in Saudi Arabia’s Badr region.

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Both of Al-Zawahiri’s parents were from affluent families. Al-father, Zawahiri’s Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, was born into a large family of doctors and academics in Kafr Ash Sheikh Dhawahri, Sharqia Governorate, with one of his grandfathers being Sheikh Muhammad al-Ahmadi al-Zawahiri (1887-1944), the 34th Grand Imam of al-Azhar.

Umayma Azzam, Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s mother came from a moneyed, politically active family. She was the daughter of Abdel-Wahhab Azzam, a literary scholar who served as president of Cairo University, founder and inaugural rector of King Saud University (Saudi Arabia’s first university), and ambassador to Pakistan, and his own brother was Azzam Pasha, the Arab League’s founding secretary-general (1945–1952).

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Another relative on his maternal side was Salem Azzam, an Islamist philosopher, and activist who served as secretary-general of the Islamic Council of Europe in London for a while.

Muna, the daughter of Azzam Pasha (his maternal great-uncle), is married to the son of the late King Faisal, Mohammed bin Faisal Al Saud.

Also read: Who was Ayman al-Zawahri?

Wives and children

Ayman al-Zawahiri had at least four marriages. Azza Ahmed Nowari and Umaima Hassan are two of his spouses.

Al-Zawahiri married his first wife, Azza Ahmed Nowari, a philosophy student at Cairo University, in 1978. Their wedding, held at the Continental Hotel in Opera Square, was exceedingly conventional, with separate spaces for men and women and no music, photos, or overall levity.

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Many years later, when the United States struck Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Azza reportedly had no notion that al-Zawahiri had allegedly been a jihadi emir (commander) for the previous decade. Umaima Hassan, one of Zawahiri’s four wives, issued an internet statement in June 2012 praising Muslim women for their role in the Arab Spring.

Al-Zawahiri had four daughters, Fatima (born 1981), Umayma (born 1983), Nabila (born 1986), and Khadiga (born 1987), with his wife, Azza, as well as a son, Mohammed (also born in 1987; Khadiga’s twin brother), who was a “delicate, well-mannered boy” and “the pet of his older sisters.” 

Azza gave birth to a fifth child, their daughter, Aisha, who had Down syndrome, ten years after Mohammed was born. Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded in February 2004 and later revealed that Abu Turab Al-Urduni had married one of al-Zawahiri’s daughters. 

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One of Al-Zawahiri’s three surviving wives gave birth to a daughter named Nawwar in the first half of 2005.

Azza, Ayman al-Zawahiri’s first wife, and two of their six children, Mohammad and Aisha, were murdered in a US bombing on Afghanistan in late December 2001, following the September 11 attacks on the United States. Azza was entrapped under the debris of a guesthouse roof after an American aerial bombing of a Taliban-controlled building in Gardez. Concerned for her modesty, she “refused to be excavated” because “men would see her face,” and she died the next day from her injuries.

Mohammad, her son, was also brutally murdered in the same house. Her four-year-old Down syndrome daughter, Aisha, was unharmed by the bombing but perished from exposure in the chilly night while Afghan volunteers attempted to save Azza.