After his killing in Pakistan by US particular forces, Bin Laden was succeeded as Al-Qaeda’s chief by the Egyptian jihadist Ayman al-Zawahiri, an ideologue who has minimize a far much less charismatic presence.
Zawahiri has needed to lie very low, almost certainly across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, amid hypothesis over whether or not he’s nonetheless even alive, whereas the group has now mutated into one thing very completely different.
“AQ central is a shadow of its former self,” Barak Mendelsohn, a terrorism knowledgeable at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, advised AFP. “Zawahiri’s greatest success was to maintain Al-Qaeda alive.”
Mendelsohn stated that slightly than being a coherent decision-making centre, Al-Qaeda’s management is now extra akin to a “board of advisors” rallying and aiding jihadists the world over.
Zawahiri, 69, has seen Al-Qaeda basically franchise out its operations from the Maghreb to Somalia to Afghanistan, in addition to in Syria and Iraq.
“Under Zawahiri’s stewardship, Al-Qaeda has develop into more and more decentralised, with authority resting primarily within the arms of Al-Qaeda’s affiliate leaders,” in response to a latest report from the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) think-tank.
It stated Zawahiri had certainly performed a serious function within the reorganisation of quite a few jihadist teams beneath Al-Qaeda’s umbrella.
At the top of 2020, unconfirmed stories re-emerged that Zawahiri had died from a coronary heart situation, the newest in years of rumours that he was in truth lifeless.
He later appeared in a video denouncing the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar.
But the dearth of any agency date on the video made it inconceivable to substantiate or deny if he’s nonetheless alive — and analysts have already famous his distinctive longevity since he joined up with jihadist circles 4 many years in the past in Egypt.
The uncertainty over the composition of Al-Qaeda’s management was intensified final August following the killing in Tehran, reportedly by Israeli brokers, of Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, the group’s quantity two beneath al-Zawahiri and recognized by his nom-de-guerre of Abu Mohammed al-Masri.
If Zawahiri remains to be alive, it means Al-Qaeda is led by a person almost certainly in ailing well being who, regardless of being one of the architects of the September 11, 2001, assaults, lacks the macabre magnetism of his predecessor.
The US has issued a $25 million bounty for Zawahiri and put him on its most-wanted terrorists checklist, however analysts say officers don’t appear overly involved about him, and don’t make overt efforts to hunt him down.
Washington’s lack of curiosity could also be right down to the weakening significance of Al-Qaeda as a decision-making hub, coinciding with the rise of the rival Islamic State group.
IS, which at its peak managed a self-proclaimed “caliphate” comprising swathes of Iraq and Syria, notably stole the thunder of Al-Qaeda in media as its radical voice dominated social networks.
Rather than becoming a member of forces, the 2 teams have fought on quite a few battlefields within the Middle East and Africa, and Al-Qaeda remains to be confronted with a problem to stay related.
Whatever Zawahiri’s destiny, his period is coming to an in depth and specialists level to 1 clear candidate as his potential future successor, his fellow Egyptian Saif al-Adel.
Adel is a former lieutenant-colonel within the Egyptian particular forces who joined the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group within the Nineteen Eighties. He was arrested however was later freed, and travelled to Afghanistan to affix Al-Qaeda beneath Zawahiri.
“Adel performed an important function in constructing Al-Qaeda’s operational capabilities and rapidly ascended the hierarchy,” stated the CEP, including that he additionally had a central function in coaching the airplane hijackers who carried out the September 11 assaults.
A UN report from 2018 stated that he was primarily based in Iran. In the wake of Masri’s reported killing in Tehran, Iran reaffirmed its denials of providing sanctuary to Al-Qaeda operatives.
“There is a risk of a shock, possibly there could be a transfer to the subsequent era,” Mendelsohn stated.
And with Adel nonetheless very a lot a shadowy determine about whom little is understood, Mendelsohn added that it’s not clear what sort of repute he has amongst youthful fighters.
Colin Clarke, analysis director on the US-based Soufan Center think-tank, added that “you will need to differentiate between Al-Qaeda the organisation and the motion it helped spur.”
“To some, the Al-Qaeda core that was led by Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Zawahiri, is a relic of a bygone time,” he stated. “But it has confirmed remarkably resilient prior to now. It’s too early to jot down the group’s obituary simply but.”