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Who will succeed Bin Laden as Al Qaeda chief? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Al Qaeda was dealt a severe blow with the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden, and the question now is: who will replace Bin Laden as the leader of this terrorist network? Many analysts believe that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Al Qaeda No. 2 is the front-runner to succeed Bin Laden.

Senior Al Qaeda figures Ayman al-Zawahiri, Saif al-Adel, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Abu Yahya al-Libi are considered the most likely contenders to take over the terrorist organization following Osama Bin Laden’s death.

Al-Zawahiri is the strongest candidate to succeed Bin Laden having served closely underneath the Al Qaeda leader as his No. 2 for a number of decades; he was also one of the founding members of the terrorist organization. Ayman al-Zawahiri began as a surgeon in Egypt, joining the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group, before ultimately becoming the emir of this group and merging it with Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organization. Al-Zawahiri is considered to be Al Qaeda’s most influential ideologue; he worked closely with Bin Laden, and enjoys the respect of the extremist Islamist jihadists who are members of Al Qaeda.

However we must also acknowledged that the senior, or shall we say, first generation Al Qaeda leaders, like al-Zawahiri, aged 59, have been away from the battlefronts since the US began its “war on terrorism” in 2001. This first generation of Al Qaeda jihadists have either been in hiding like al-Zawahiri and – until recently – Bin Laden, or have been arrested or indeed killed. One notable exception to this is the Al Qaeda military Saif al-Adel, who is still believed to be operating in the field. In 2004, he published the infamous “terrorist manual” entitled “The Base of the Vanguard”, and many believe that he would be a far more effective leader of Al Qaeda than al-Zawahiri.

Montasser el-Zayat, an Egyptian lawyer who has often represented jailed Islamists, and who personally knew Ayman al-Zawahiri after the two were investigated and arrested as part of the investigations following the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “this [who will succeed Bin Laden] is an organizational issue…one cannot speculate on who will be chosen, or how this decision will be made. However from my own personal knowledge I have a

Specific view on this issue, which is that al-Zawahiri has always preferred to be No. 2 and he will be reluctant to become the emir [of Al Qaeda].”

He added “this is the same thing that happened when he [al-Zawahiri] was in charge of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization; Dr. Sayed Imam al-Sharif [AKA Dr. Fadl] was put forward to be the Emir whilst the entire world dealt with al-Zawahiri as if he was the Emir. This is exactly what happened in Al Qaeda, and I believe that the primary mover in Al Qaeda is al-Zawahiri, and his influence on Bin Laden was clear. Al-Zawahiri’s influence in changing Bin Laden from funding jihad…to fighting jihad is also clear.”

El-Zayat also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “security considerations may prevent, or delay, the choosing of Bin Laden’s successor, but al-Zawahiri will remain at the centre of Al Qaeda, and he will continue to lead the group in his manner from his position as No. 2.”

He stressed “I believe that al-Zawahiri was the brains behind Bin Laden. In the forthcoming phase I expect the issuance of a statements specifying one of the figures of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to succeed Bin Laden as a form of appreciation and gratitude [to this Al Qaeda off-shoot group], but al-Zawahiri will continue to pull the string.”

In Al Qaeda’s first official statement following the announcement of the death of its former leader, Osama Bin Laden, the group vowed not to deviate from the path of armed struggle and jihad, asserting that Bin Laden’s blood “is most previous to us and to every Muslim, and it will not be wasted in vain.”

In a statement posted on internet forums, Al Qaeda vowed revenge on the United States, saying that “it (Bin Laden’s blood) will remain, with permission from Allah the Almighty, as a curse that chases the Americans and their agents, and goes after them inside and outside of their countries.”

This statement, which was translated by the SITE monitoring service, threatened that “their [the Americans] happiness will turn into sorrow, and their blood will be mixed with their tears.”

Al Qaeda also called upon “our Muslim people in Pakistan, n whose land Sheikh Osama [Bin Laden] was killed to rise up and revolt to cleanse this shame that has been attached to them by a clique of traitors and thieves…and in general to cleanse their country from the filth of the Americans who spread corruption in it.”

Dr. Hani al-Sibai, who is the director of the “Al-Maqrizi Center” in London, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “it is most likely that al-Zawahiri will take over the leadership of Al Qaeda.” He added “I do not know who can come forward to challenge al-Zawahiri today for this position.” He also said that al-Zawahiri may try to order a large-scale terrorist attack to stamp his mark on Al Qaeda, and show his leadership of the organization.

Al-Sibai added that “the Al Qaeda Shura Council will meet and exchange opinions in its own special way, and most likely within the next week or 10 days Al Qaeda will issue a statement, obituarising Bin Laden, and announcing the new leader.”

He also described al-Zawahiri as being “the eldest of the remaining Al Qaeda leadership, and the most committed to jihadist operation, and he is one of the founders of the organization.”

Dr. al-Sibai told Asharq Al-Awsat that the most prominent members of Al Qaeda were previously members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad such as Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, Mohammed Atef AKA Abu Hafs al-Masri, Saif al-Adel, and Abu Khabab al-Masri.

However a fundamentalist leader in Pakistan, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that “from a realistic and operational point of view, the No. 2 becomes the No. 1 following the absence of the No. 1, and this is something that the Al Qaeda Shura Council will look at, they will meet and either agree on Dr. al-Zawahiri, or choose another figure, but this choice will only be made after the Shura Council decides what is required [from a leader] in the forthcoming phase.”

As for al-Zawahiri’s main contenders to succeed Osama Bin Laden as head of Al Qaeda, Anwar al-Awlaki’s star is on the rise within the jihadist scene, and his name has been tied to a number of recent attacks including the Fort Hood shooting, the Christmas Day bomb plot, and others. This dual US – Yemeni citizen, has been described by US officials as a “regional commander” within Al Qaeda, and his targeted killing has been approved by US President Barack Obama.

Whilst Abu Yahya al-Libi is an Islamist ideologue who is believed to be a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, who is generally believed to possess the requisite personal charisma to take over the Al Qaeda organization. Speaking in 2008, a former CIA analyst told the New York Times that al-Libi was a rising star within Al Qaeda. He said “He’s a warrior. He’s a poet. He’s a scholar. He’s a pundit. He’s a military commander. And he’s a very charismatic, young, brash rising star within Al-Qaeda, and I think he has become the heir apparent to Osama bin Laden in terms of taking over the entire global jihadist movement.”

So who will succeed Osama Bin Laden as head of Al Qaeda? Only time will tell.