Al Qaeda wants a brand new chief after Zawahiri’s killing. Its bench is thinner than it as soon as was.
Whereas the terrorist group will not be wanting contenders, its ranks are sparser and extra geographically dispersed than 10 or 20 years in the past.
Here is what we learn about who could possibly be the subsequent Al Qaeda chief.
The person tipped by many analysts to be Zawahiri’s successor is Saif al-Adel, a former Egyptian commando who is among the final survivors of al Qaeda’s “founding era” and has spent a lot of the previous twenty years in Iran.
Adel was a loyal servant to Osama bin Laden earlier than performing as al Qaeda’s interim chief in 2011. He organized the succession course of in favor of Zawahiri as a result of that was bin Laden’s want — despite the fact that Adel himself might need been a more practical alternative as competitors from ISIS grew within the following years.
Saif al-Adel is his nom de guerre, which interprets as Sword of Justice. It is not the one thriller concerning the man.
There are only a couple of purported pictures of him in existence. He’s stated to have faked his dying in his 20s. His standing in Iran has additionally been unclear: generally detained, generally below home arrest, generally at liberty.
Ali Soufan, former FBI particular agent and writer of “Anatomy of Terror: From the Loss of life of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State,” describes Adel as the last word insider, somebody well-connected throughout many nations, and a shrewd navy tactician. For a lot of his grownup life he has lived and breathed al Qaeda.
Soufan wrote within the Combating Terrorism Middle’s Sentinel journal just lately that Adel performed “a central position in audacious assaults from the ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident in Somalia to the bombings of US embassies in East Africa and the suicide assault on the destroyer the united statesCole.”
“When he acts, he does so with ruthless effectivity,” Soufan added. “Above all, he’s a pragmatist — a person who would have recognized that regardless of the hateful necessity of residing below a [Shia] authorities anathema to Sunni [al Qaeda], his greatest probability of survival, and subsequently of continued effectiveness within the jihad, lay in a return to Iran.”
Soufan additionally notes that al-Adel was a mentor to the chief of al Qaeda in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose group later morphed into ISIS.
“Saif as emir would get pleasure from a uncommon alternative to draw some former Islamic State members again into [al Qaeda],” Soufan suggests.
The Africa associates
A UN skilled report earlier this yr contended that others within the operating for al Qaeda’s management had been from the group’s sturdy African associates.
It talked about three attainable candidates apart from al-Adel: Abdal-Rahman al-Maghrebi; Yazid Mebrak, the pinnacle of al Qaeda within the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM); and Ahmed Diriye, the chief of Shabaab in Somalia.
Maghrebi would, because it had been, preserve it within the household, as he’s Zawahiri’s son-in-law. However he’s Moroccan in a company traditionally dominated by Saudis and Egyptians.
He was named a specifically designated world terrorist by the US State Division final yr and described because the “long-time director” of As Sahab, al Qaeda’s media operation. He’s 52.
In papers found at bin Laden’s Pakistani hideout, one other senior determine in al Qaeda stated Maghrebi “has excessive morals, he can preserve a secret, and he’s affected person. His ideology is prudent, and he has wonderful consciousness.”
Mebrak, an Algerian, grew to become chief of AQIM in 2020. He’s also called Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi.
In designating him, the State Division stated he “was anticipated to play a job in al Qaeda’s world administration,” as did his predecessor as AQIM chief.
He’s a veteran of jihad within the Sahel, the place al Qaeda and ISIS teams compete for superiority.
One other affiliate to have survived regardless of the most effective efforts of america and a multinational east African power is al Shabaab in Somalia. It has been liable to inner rifts and its fortunes have swung wildly however it has survived a problem from the budding ISIS.
Diriye has been its chief since 2014, a tenure of unlikely longevity. Shabaab and al Qaeda have been united for a decade and Diriye was fast to pledge allegiance to Zawahiri when he grew to become chief.
For al Qaeda, the appointment of a frontrunner from Africa could be a cultural leap. Some former al Qaeda insiders say that senior Egyptian and Saudi figures throughout the group typically regarded down on African associates.
Al Qaeda has solely ever had two leaders and the present standing of its governing Shura (council), which had a vital position within the election of Zawahiri, is difficult to discern. When Zawahiri was chosen, he had already been anointed by bin Laden as his successor however it nonetheless took a while to garner the “bayat”– the oath of loyalty — of far-flung members of the council. The working assumption amongst analysts is that members of the Shura might over the subsequent few weeks start to declare bayat to al Qaeda’s third chief.
The management of al Qaeda within the Arabian Peninsula, based mostly in Yemen, has additionally been decimated by US and Saudi operations.
Can Al Qaeda reinvent itself?
Nonetheless, there could also be alternatives for al Qaeda to reinvent itself — whether or not Adel turns into the subsequent chief or al Qaeda turns to the subsequent era of battle-hardened African jihadis.
The UN panel of specialists on worldwide terrorism believes “the worldwide context is beneficial to [al Qaeda], which intends to be acknowledged once more because the chief of world jihad.”
As ISIS has waned within the Center East (though it retains a deadly presence by its African associates and has survived in components of Syria and Iraq) “[al Qaeda] propaganda is now higher developed to compete with ISIL [ISIS] as the important thing actor in inspiring the worldwide menace,” the UN specialists concluded.
Inside Afghanistan, al Qaeda’s predominant presence has been within the south and east, although the UN specialists famous that it might be in search of to determine a presence in western provinces bordering Iran.
Al Qaeda will not be with out pals inside Afghanistan, past its lengthy historic ties with the Haqqani Community, a strong participant throughout the Taliban regime. Its associates in Central Asia such because the Turkestan Islamic Get together additionally retain a presence.
It appears doubtless that whoever succeeds Zawahiri, the group’s management will proceed to have its middle of gravity in Afghanistan as long as the Taliban rule the nation, even when its a lot of its operations happen 1000’s of miles away.
The successor’s activity will likely be to re-establish the group’s relevance whereas harnessing disparate franchises throughout Asia, Africa and the Center East — and maybe inspiring a brand new era to hold out assaults in its identify in Western cities.