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Only last January, in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, bin Laden's eldest son married the daughter of his longtime military chief and sometime media adviser, Mohammed Atef. Also known by his nom de guerre, Abu Hafs al-Masri, the Egyptian former policeman helped set up bin Laden's networks in East Africa and has been indicted in the U.S. for the deadly 1998 attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
One of the honored guests that day was bin Laden's right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, a surgeon and the longstanding head of Egypt's al-Jihad, a radical Islamic group founded in 1974 that is blamed for the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the failed 1995 attempt on President Hosni Mubarak. The leading ideologue of al-Qaeda, with an extreme dedication to violence, al-Zawahiri, 50, is "the brain behind bin Laden," says Montasser el-Zayat, an Egyptian lawyer who has represented extremist groups and spent time in prison with al-Zawahiri. "When Osama went to Afghanistan, he was just a young man supporting the Afghans," says el-Zayat. "He did not have a political outlook. Ayman controlled his thinking and convinced him of the principles of Jihad."
Like bin Laden, al-Zawahiri didn't have to endure poverty to fuel his revolutionary fervor. His great-uncle was the first secretary general of the Arab League, and he grew up wealthy. After breaking with his family and fleeing Egypt, he ended up tending to injured freedom fighters on the Afghan-Pakistan border. It was there that he met bin Laden, encouraging him to fight at the front instead of just financing it.
Both Atef and al-Zawahiri prefer to keep a low profile. Al-Zawahiri, in particular, has reportedly gone to great lengths to stay in the shadows, and even underwent extensive plastic surgery. He seems to have been successful; in the early '90s, he allegedly traveled in the U.S., raising money, meeting with terrorist cells and scoping out potential targets.
The other men who do bin Laden's bidding are similarly discreet and chillingly effective, rarely letting the rank-and-file guerrillas know the most sensitive details of operations. Abu Zubaydah, a young Saudi-born Palestinian who helped select recruits in Pakistan and organized the training camps in Afghanistan, now runs all bin Laden's international operations. He has been linked by investigators to the failed millennium bombing plots in both the U.S. and Jordan. Shaykh Said, the suspected paymaster in the Sept. 11 attacks, is bin Laden's elusive financial adviser.
Not everyone in bin Laden's group has been as crafty. Another financial deputy, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, allegedly tried in vain to buy nuclear materials on the black market, was arrested in 1998 in Munich and extradited on conspiracy charges to the U.S., where he has pleaded not guilty and is still awaiting trial. He told interrogators that the only reason he had visited Germany and more than 20 other countries in the previous four years was to find a new wife.