April 20, 2011— -- Wanted terrorist and brother-in-law of al Qaeda's number two commander, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is dead, according to an announcement on an Islamist website.
The announcement, posted Monday on the website for the al-Maqrizi Center for Historical Studies, says that Usama Hasan, whose sister Omayma is married to al-Zawahiri, was "martyred" in Afghanistan earlier this year. According to the statement, Hasan, from Cairo, was convicted in absentia by Egyptian courts in 1999 for his membership in the Egyptian terror group Gama'a Islamiya, part of which later merged with al Qaeda.
He was arrested again in Iran in 2001, released later that year and made his way to Afghanistan where he mysteriously dropped off the radar, the statement says, until the al-Maqrizi Center claimed they received information related to his death.
The statement does not release details or circumstances of Hasan's death in Afghanistan, but Islamist websites frequently announce deaths once they become known. Hasan was not a major figure in al Qaeda or Gama'a Islamiya, but he was connected by family and marriage to some of the world's most dangerous and notorious terrorists. According to the al-Maqrizi Center announcement, two of Hasan's other sisters were also married to leaders of Zawahiri's Islamic Jihad, which later became part of al Qaeda. One is currently imprisoned in Egypt and another was killed in 2001 in Afghanistan. Only Zawahiri remains free and alive.
News of Hasan's death comes just days after al-Zawahiri appeared in a rare video message urging Arab armies to intervene in Libya to oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi before "Western aid... turns into invasions."
The hour-plus long video posted online is the first since Egypt's successful revolution and features the Osama bin Laden deputy in a white robe with the barrel of an assault rifle visible at his side. In addition to discussing the bloody fighting in Libya, al-Zawahiri, also an Egyptian native, celebrates the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and says that the continuation of the North African nation depends on the destruction of Israel and the establishment of Islamic law.
Though al-Zawahiri has released audio messages in recent months, it was the first video appearance one of the world's most wanted men has made in more than a year and half.
The al Qaeda leader's message marks what U.S. officials see as another attempt in al Qaeda's recent, belated efforts to spin the spreading Arab world protests in their favor.
"Al Qaeda must be pretty damn frustrated these days," a U.S. official told ABC News. "Calls for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa don't exactly square with their extremist views. They've been on the wrong side of history -- and humanity -- for years."