KEY POINTS

  • Rumors claimed al-Zawahiri died of prolonged illness in November 2020
  • The Al Qaeda leader mentioned the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in his video
  • Intelligence agencies have yet to offer proof of his death

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri on Saturday appeared in a video marking the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, months after rumors claimed he was dead. 

In a 60-minute video, al-Zawahiri offered evidence that he was still alive, mentioning a raid on a Russian military base in Syria that occurred on Jan. 1, months after rumors about his death first surfaced in November 2020, according to U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks terrorist websites. 

In the video, the Al Qaeda leader also celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Supporters of the terrorist group also called the attack “blessed”, believing it to be “uniquely positive,” SITE Director Rita Katz wrote in a Twitter commentary. 

“Tragic as it is to say, this 9/11 anniversary is a uniquely positive one for al-Qaeda. As one AQ supporter wrote, the US leaving Afghanistan is validation of Bin Laden’s vision and the 'blessed' 9/11 attacks, and that 'Afghanistan is the beginning,'” she wrote. 

In late 2020, rumors spread that the Al Qaeda leader died from a prolonged illness. However, intelligence agencies have yet to offer proof of his death. 

While al-Zawahiri did discuss the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, he did not mention the Taliban’s recent rise to power. This could mean that the Al Qaeda leader died after January 2021, Katz argued. 

“Zawahiri doesn’t mention Taliban’s Afghanistan victory, and his talk of U.S. ‘making its exit from Afghanistan’ could have been said early as Feb. 2020 upon Doha Agreement,” she wrote, citing a deal made last year in an effort to end the war in Afghanistan.

“Thus, he could still be dead, though if so, would have been at some point in or after Jan 2021​.”

Al-Zawahiri took over the leadership position of Al Qaeda after former leader Osama bin Laden was killed by NAVY SEALs in Pakistan on May 2, 2011. 

Al-Zawahiri is currently listed as one of FBI’s most wanted terrorists for the murder of U.S. nationals and conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals outside of the country. He is also wanted for leading an attack on federal facilities, including U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, that resulted in casualties. 

The FBI, in collaboration with the Rewards for Justice Program and the State Department, has offered a $25 million reward for information that could lead to the apprehension and conviction of the Al Qaeda leader. 

Osama Bin Laden with Ayman Al-Zawahiri, left, and Muhammad Atef Osama Bin Laden with Ayman Al-Zawahiri, left, and Muhammad Atef Photo: US Attorney for the Southern District of New York / HANDOUT