More than six weeks after Osama bin Laden was killed in an American commando raid, Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s No. 2, is assuming the leadership of the international terrorist organization, according to a statement posted online Thursday.
Mr. Zawahri, an Egyptian who long served as second in command to Bin Laden, had been expected to inherit leadership of the terrorist organization, though the delay in announcing his succession led some counterterrorism analysts to see signs of a power struggle at the top of Al Qaeda following Bin Laden’s death in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2.
“The general command of Al Qaeda, after the completion of consultation, announces that Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahri has assumed the responsibility of the leadership of the group,” Al Qaeda said in a statement presented by the Al Fajr Media Center, the terror network’s online voice, and posted on jihadist Internet forums.
Trained as a doctor, Mr. Zawahri, 59, has been described as the operational leader of the group. But he is seen as abrasive to fellow militants, and lacking Bin Laden’s charismatic appeal to Islamists and ability to command their loyalty, leading to questions over whether he would be able to continue drawing jihadist recruits. In addition, his new role may widen the longstanding split in Al Qaeda between his Egyptian contingent and militants of other nationalities.
Zawahri has been called the operational brains of Al Qaeda. Really no shock here that he would assume the leadership role. In some ways, this is actually good for the United States. Zawahri has long been a target of U.S. forces and is a known entity. The intelligence community does not have to readjust to a new leader that they know little or nothing about. Plus, given his lack of broad appeal across Al Qaeda, this could mean some in fighting or even a weakening of the group.
What it does show is that Al Qaeda is still a dangerous entity that the U.S. and the world cannot write off. The U.S. cannot fall back on a pre-9/11 mentality just because Bin Laden is dead. Zawahri is a dangerous individual, Al Qaeda is a dangerous group, and America must remain vigilant to be secure.