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May 3rd, 2011

Following is the abstract of a psychological evaluation of Osama bin Laden’s deputy and chief al-Qaida strategist Ayman al-Zawahiri, conducted in the months following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The full 38-page report and related threat assessments are available to selected professionals upon request.


“Bin Laden’s Brain”

The Abrasively Negativistic Personality
of Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri

أيمن محمد ربيع الظواهري

Aubrey Immelman and Kathryn Kuhlmann
Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics
June 2002


The report presents the results of an indirect assessment of the personality of Ayman Muhammad Rabaie al-Zawahiri (born June 19, 1951).

Information concerning al-Zawahiri was collected from open-source media reports and synthesized into a personality profile using the second edition of the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC), which yields 34 normal and maladaptive personality classifications congruent with Axis II of DSM-IV.

The personality profile yielded by the MIDC was analyzed on the basis of interpretive guidelines provided in the MIDC and Millon Index of Personality Styles manuals. Al-Zawahiri’s primary personality patterns were found to be Contentious/oppositional and Dominant/controlling, with secondary features of the Dauntless/dissenting and Ambitious/self-serving patterns.

The amalgam of Contentious (negativistic, or passive-aggressive) and Dominant (aggressive, or sadistic) patterns in al-Zawahiri’s profile suggests the presence of Millon’s “abrasive negativist” syndrome. For these personalities, minor frictions easily exacerbate into major confrontations and power struggles. They are quick to spot inconsistencies in others actions or ethical standards and adept at constructing arguments that amplify observed contradictions. They characteristically take the moral high ground, dogmatically and contemptuously expose their antagonists’ perceived hypocrisy, and contemptuously, derisively, and scornfully turn on those who cross their path.

The major implication of the study is that it offers an empirically based personological framework for conceptualizing Ayman al-Zawahiri’s antagonistic negativism, single-minded commitment to a cause, inflammatory rhetoric, and forceful persuasiveness — qualities instrumental in Osama bin Laden’s insidious campaign to propagate diabolical enemy images of the West as a catalyst for incubating a political culture contrived to inculcate religious extremism in the Islamic world.


Full research report

“Bin Laden’s Brain”: The Abrasively Negativistic Personality of Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri
(Paper presented at the 26th Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology Boston, July 6–9, 2003)


Related psychological profiles

Osama bin Laden Personality Profile

Key Leadership Roles in a Global-Reach Terrorist Operation


5/10/2011 Update

Al-Qaida Likely to Elevate No. 2 — Or Name No One

Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden
In this 1998 file photo made available Friday, March 19, 2004, Ayman al-Zawahri, left, holds a press conference with Osama bin Laden in Khost, Afghanistan. (Photo credit: Mazhar Ali Khan / AP file)

By Rebecca Santana

May 10, 2011

BAGHDAD — A week after the death of Osama bin Laden, his longtime deputy is considered the front-runner to succeed the iconic al-Qaida founder. But uprisings in the Middle East and changing dynamics within the group could point to another scenario: a decision not to appoint anyone at all to replace the world’s most-wanted terrorist.

Replacing bin Laden, who founded al-Qaida more than two decades ago and masterminded 9/11, may be no easy task. Analysts say the choice will likely depend on how the terror organization views its goals and priorities in the post-bin Laden age.

The revolt across the Arab world over the past few months was driven by aspirations for Western-style democracy, not the al-Qaida goal of a religiously led state spanning the Muslim world. And as al-Qaida struggles to prove its relevance, the group has become increasingly decentralized and prone to internal disputes.

“You almost have to start with the question of ‘Can he be replaced?’ said Lt. Col. Reid Sawyer, the director of the West Point, N.Y.,-based Countering Terrorism Center.

Whether al-Qaida “even need name an ‘official’ new leader is uncertain,” wrote Rita Katz and Josh Devon in a report by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist web traffic. “So long as the group can continue to issue messages … the group will remain a guiding light for the global jihadist community.”

If al-Qaida does pick a successor, Sawyer and other analysts said Ayman al-Zawahri, 59, is the most likely choice because he was bin Laden’s longtime deputy and has far more experience than younger candidates. …

But al-Zawahri lacks bin Laden’s personal appeal, and some members of al-Qaida have found him a controlling micromanager, said a senior U.S. intelligence official who briefed reporters in Washington. …

Under al-Zawahri’s leadership, many al-Qaida analysts say there would be few immediate changes in al-Qaida’s operating principles. Al-Zawahri and bin Laden had no ideological differences and both considered the U.S., known in jihadist circles as the “far enemy,” as the most important target.

But there will be a push for more small-scale attacks that target fewer civilians [link added], said Moazzam Begg, a Briton who was held in Guantanamo for more than two years before being released in 2005. …

Full story


New most-wanted: Ayman al-Zawahiri (NBC “Today,” May 4, 2011) — The death of Osama bin Laden is putting the spotlight on the terror kingpin’s number two, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who is now the new most wanted terrorist in the world. (02:40)


6/16/2011 Update

Al-Qaida’s New Boss: An Unloved Micromanager

Experts say al-Zawahri’s leadership style will be dramatically different than bin Laden’s

The Associated Press, Reuters, and NBC News via
June 16, 2011

In a story that has become part of jihadi lore, Ayman al-Zawahri, the man succeeding Osama bin Laden as leader of al-Qaida, once ordered his followers to dig a huge hole in the east of Afghanistan.

It was near the end of the Soviet occupation of the country in the late 1980s, and al-Zawahri’s followers were curious about the pit’s purpose, recalled Noman Benotman, a former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).

“(Al-Zawahri) said it is just a swimming pool for the people to enjoy themselves in the summer,” the former bin Laden associate told

“But it ended up being a prison when they finished it,” said Benotman, who now eschews violence and is a senior analyst at British counter-extremist think tank Quilliam.

The wartime jail was meant to impress on the men fighting with al-Zawahri how far he would go to enforce his will and establish discipline, Benotman said.

Osama bin Laden’s longtime deputy has long brought discipline, ideological fire and tactical and organizational cunning to al-Qaida, which has found itself increasingly decentralized and prone to internal disputes following its expulsion from Afghanistan after its invasion by U.S. forces in 2001.

But while al-Zawahri, who turns 60 in a few days, is said to have been behind the use of suicide bombings and the independent militant cells that have become the network’s trademarks, he is also thought to be a controlling micromanager who lacks bin Laden’s charisma. …

Al-Zawahri was one of the biggest proponents of transforming al-Qaida from a local guerilla resistance group in Afghanistan to a terror organization with a global reach, according to Charlene Gubash, NBC News Producer in Cairo.

His appointment means al-Qaida will continue trying to attack the United States and European countries involved in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the goal of forcing the West from Arab lands, she said.

Al-Zawahri has tried to portray the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings as a collective desire by people in the Mideast to replace their leaders with Islamic governments, Gubash said.

His personality and leadership style was forged over many years fighting against Western and Israeli interests. …

While he has the passion and track record, al-Zawahri also has a reputation as a stubborn and contentious individual who is not universally popular among jihadis, Former CIA operations officer John J. Lebeau told Reuters. …

But Benotman warns that al-Zawahri’s abrasive personality doesn’t necessarily mean he will fail [link added].

“I don’t think it’s going to be easy for al-Qaida … to adapt to this new leadership,” he said. “But we can’t forget (al-Zawahri’s) skills.”

“He is more intellectual than bin Laden. He’s very smart,” Benotman said, adding: “He’s an … exceptional militant leader, full of experience.”

Full story


4/23/2017 Update

Ayman al-Zawahiri: How a CIA drone strike nearly killed the head of al-Qaeda (Jeff Stein, Newsweek, April 21, 2017) — The [Trump] White House signaled a new, tougher approach to eliminating al-Zawahiri and his militant allies in early April with the appointment of Lisa Curtis to head the South Asia desk for the National Security Council. … The Al-Qaeda leader had been moving about the Federally Administered Tribal Areas since at least 2005, according to a forthcoming book, The Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Flight, by longtime British investigative reporters Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy. … Full report


Related reports on this site

Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden
In this 1998 file photo made available Friday, March 19, 2004, Ayman al-Zawahri, left, holds a press conference with Osama bin Laden in Khost, Afghanistan. (Photo credit: Mazhar Ali Khan / AP file)

Ayman Al-Zawahiri Succeeds Osama bin Laden as al-Qaida Leader (June 15, 2011)

Osama bin Laden’s Successor, Interim Operational Leader Named (May 18, 2011)

Al-Qaida Leadership Roles (May 4, 2011)

Zawahiri Lashes Out At Obama (June 3, 2009)

Zawahiri Blames U.S. Wars for Economic Crisis (Nov. 28, 2008)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — May 3, 2010

New York Bomb Suspect Arrested

Image: Faisal Shahzad
Faisal Shahzad, the man accused of plotting a car bombing in New York’s Times Square. (Photo credit: U.S. Marshals Service / AP file)

One year ago today, I reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents arrested Faisal Shahzad, 30, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, at New York’s JFK airport in connection with the failed bombing attempt in New York’s Times Square as he tried to leave the country on an Emirates airlines flight to Dubai.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — May 3, 2009

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Bachmann: Minnesota Press Pushes Back

Bachmann-Pawlenty.jpg picture by Rifleman-Al

Two years ago today, on May 3, 2009, I reported that the sheer weight and volume of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s assault on reason may have reached critical mass, crossing the tipping point beyond which Minnesota media could no longer tune out Bachmann’s insanity or avert their gaze from “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in embarrassed silence.

In a free society, it’s imperative that the press fulfill its proper watchdog function and hold Rep. Bachmann accountable by shining a bright light on her words and deeds.

6 Responses to “Zawahiri Psychological Profile”
  1. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Osama bin Laden’s Successor, Interim Operational Leader Named Says:

    […] Zawahiri Psychological Profile (May 3, 2011) […]

  2. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Eulogy for bin Laden Says:

    […] Zawahiri Psychological Profile (May 3, 2011) […]

  3. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Ayman Al-Zawahiri Succeeds Osama bin Laden as al-Qaida Leader Says:

    […] The brains behind much of al-Qaida’s strategy, Ayman al-Zawahiri vowed in June 2011 to press ahead with the group’s campaign against the United States and its allies. […]

  4. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Al-Qaida’s No. 2 Leader Killed in Obama Drone Strike Says:

    […] Ayman al-Zawahiri Psychological Profile (May 3, 2011) […]

  5. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Ramadan Terror Plot Foiled? Zawahiri Wanted “Something Big” Says:

    […] Ayman al-Zawahiri Psychological Profile (May 3, 2011) […]

  6. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Dead Says:

    […] Based on my informal observations, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s psychological profile resembles Ayman al-Zawahiri (fundamentalist “abrasive negativist”) more closely than Osama Bin Laden (nonfundamentalist “unprincipled narcissist”). […]

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