London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with Pulitzer prize-winning American author and journalist Lawrence Wright, who is best known as the author of the critically acclaimed non-fiction book “The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.” Wright is frequently referenced by media pundits as an excellent source of background information on the Al Qaeda organization and the September 11 attacks. Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with the American author against the backdrop of the news of the killing of the Al Qaeda leader about his views on the future of the terrorist organization.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who do you think will succeed Bin Laden as the next Al Qaeda leader?
[Wright] I think Al-Zawahri will take over, but he’s proven to be a very poor leader. He ran his own terrorist organisation ‘Al-Jihad’ into the ground. He’s very divisive, he is not charismatic, and he doesn’t have the ability to inspire young people to the cause. There are other people that might be more capable; Abu Yahya al Libi, for example. He has good standing, he is a good speaker, he’s an inspirational figure, and he’s had religious training, so there are people that might follow him. Also, he is not Egyptian. The Egyptians are a divisive faction within Al-Qaeda. The other alternative which is possible is Anwar Al-Awlaki, but he’s not a part of the central group. He has the religious training that gives authority to his statements, and he’s already proven that he has the ability to inspire young people to follow his direction. Also, he’s in a place in Yemen that might be safer than Pakistan is at the moment. That is my thinking about the future of Al-Qaeda; those three men.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Whoever succeeds Bin Laden will not have the former Al Qaeda chief’s financial capabilities, how will Al Qaeda overcome this?
[Wright] Well that’s a problem because so much of the money came from the Gulf, and none of these people that I am speaking of have those connections. So there is a succession crisis, but there will also be a financial crisis. On the other hand, Al-Qaeda has never needed a lot of money. They’ve always operated at a very low level. Terrorism is a cheap business to be in.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you think of all of the contradictory information released by the Americans surrounding the operation that led to Bin Laden’s death??
[Wright] I am encouraged that the stories that they are telling now don’t reflect well on the American operation. It suggests that these are true stories and not legends. I appreciate the candour that the administration has had in revising its initial statements. If it wanted to revise them they could have made them sound better, but what they are doing makes it sound more truthful. The truth is they shot an unarmed man, and they admit it, nobody accused them of it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think that the Pakistanis knew about Bin Laden’s reported six year presence in Abbottabad?
[Wright] It is very difficult to believe that he could be living in a town with three army regiments and ISI [Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence Agency] people are all over the place and nobody knows that he is there. I think he was there because he is a very precious asset to the ISI and the Pakistani military. Since 9/11 the US has given 20 billion dollars to Pakistan, mainly as military aid, so the Pakistani army was in the ‘looking for Bin Laden’ business. It therefore became a matter of great import that he not be found, so they had to hide him. This is my opinion. If you believe, as I do, that money to support the Pakistani military existed mainly through American support to find Bin Laden, it would be a disaster [for the Pakistanis] if they ever actually found him.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Bin Laden’s end came completely out of the blue, do you think that the future leader of Al Qaeda, whoever that may be, will be far more cautious?
[Wright] In the next few weeks it wouldn’t be surprising to me to see other members of Al-Qaeda taken down. For one thing, Pakistan is very embarrassed. If they are going to try and stay in America’s favour, and if they have anything else to tell us, this would be the time. For instance, Ayman Al-Zawahri, Mullah Omar, people like that, if they know where they are they better let us know, because the relationship with Pakistan is very very fragile right now.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think Bin Laden’s death represents the end of Al-Qaeda?
[Wright] What I think is that Al-Qaeda could not die with Bin Laden still alive. Now that he is dead, Al-Qaeda is still alive, but it might die. It doesn’t have an obvious successor to Bin Laden. Certainly Al-Qaeda will try to memorialise the death of their leader. They will try to do something. If there are things that were already in the pipeline, they will try and get them done quickly. I would certainly not be surprised if there was another attack. If they cannot pull something off and react to this, then yes, in many ways one can say they’re finished.