Bin Laden deputy takes over as al-Qaeda leader

2011-06-16 14:00

Veteran militant Ayman al-Zawahri has taken command of al-Qaeda after the killing of Osama bin Laden, an Islamist website said today.

This was widely expected following his long years as second-in-command.

Bin Laden’s lieutenant and the brains behind much of al-Qaeda’s strategy, Zawahri vowed this month to press ahead with al-Qaeda’s campaign against the US and its allies.

“The general leadership of al-Qaeda group, after the completion of consultation, announces that Sheikh Dr Ayman Zawahri, may God give him success, has assumed responsibility for command of the group,” Ansar al-Mujahideen (Followers of the Holy Warriors) said in a statement posted on a website.

The bespectacled Zawahri had been seen as Bin Laden’s most likely successor after the man held responsible for the September 11 2001 attacks in New York and Washington was shot dead by US commandos in Pakistan 45 days ago.

His whereabouts remain unknown, although he has long been thought to be hiding along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US is offering a $25 million (about R170 million) reward for any information leading to his capture or conviction.

Former US intelligence officer Robert Ayers said Zawahri was “a man lacking in charisma, a pale shadow of Bin Laden”.

“He’s a grey bureaucrat, not a leader who can energise and rally the troops.

“The only thing his promotion will accomplish is to elevate his priority as a target for the US.”
Lacks Bin Laden presence

Sajjan Gohel of Asia-Pacific Foundation security consultants said Zawahri had been in practical charge of al-Qaeda for many years, but lacked Bin Laden’s presence and his “ability to unite the different Arab factions within the group”.

Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics, said al-Qaeda’s militants in south Asia were “on the run”, its leaders were deep in hiding, and a new leader would do little to help it reverse their fortunes.

As for its branches in other parts of the world, they were “pitted in a fierce local struggle for survival... and are unable to co-ordinate their actions with the parent organisation”.

Henry Wilkinson of Janusian consultants said al-Qaeda’s ability to attack had been fading since the 9/11 attacks.

“al-Qaeda’s main achievement has been to have survived,” he said.

Others see in Zawahri a more accomplished figure.

“A worthy successor to a great predecessor. We ask God to grant you and your soldiers success for the victory of Islam and Muslims and to raise the banner of religion,” As-Ansar, a contributor to another Islamist militant website, said in a posting.

London-based journalist Abdel-Bari Atwan, who interviewed Bin Laden in 1996, said Zawahri was the “operational brains” behind al-Qaeda and was respected in part because, he said, he had been Bin Laden’s chosen deputy.

“He managed to transform al-Qaeda from being a small organisation focused on expelling US interests from Saudi Arabia into a global organisation.

“The men he brought to al-Qaeda from his own Egyptian Islamic Jihad group proved to be the instruments that drove al-Qaeda’s international push.”

Agents of America
Believed to be in his late 50s, Zawahri met Bin Laden in the mid-1980s when both were in Pakistan to support guerrillas fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Born to an upper-class Cairo family, Zawahri trained as a doctor and surgeon.

In a video message posted on the internet on June 8, Zawahri said al-Qaeda would continue to fight.

He called this year’s Arab uprisings a disaster for Washington because, he said, they would remove Arab leaders who were the “agents of America”.

He also pledged allegiance to the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Omar, calling him “Emir of the Believers”.
Among some Egyptians, there was disdain at the news.

Karim Sabet (34), a director of an oil and gas start-up firm, said he was not surprised by the announcement.

“He’s been the loyal No 2 forever. Zawahri seems even more of a madman than Osama was, and he’ll want to prove himself by going on the attack soon.

“Another devil killing in the name of Islam. Disgusting.”


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