Bin Laden deputy Zawahri takes over as Qaeda leader

Veteran militant Ayman al-Zawahri has taken command of al Qaeda after the killing of Osama bin Laden, an Islamist website said on Thursday, a move 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 United States 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,” the Islamist website Ansar al-Mujahideen (Followers of the Holy Warriors) said.

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 U.S. commandos in Pakistan 45 days ago.

Zawahri’s whereabouts are unknown, although he has long been thought to be hiding along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States is offering a $25 million reward for any information leading to his capture or conviction.

In Washington, a senior U.S. official said Zawahri would have a hard time leading the Islamist group “while focusing on his own survival.”

“He hasn’t demonstrated strong leadership or organizational skills during his time in AQ,” the official said. “Unlike many of AQ’s top members, Zawahiri has not had actual combat experience, instead opting to be an armchair general with a ‘soft’ image.”


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 coordinate their actions with the parent organization.”

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 capable figure.

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 had been bin Laden’s chosen deputy.

A contributor to another Islamist militant website, al-Ansar, said: “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.”


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 Soviets 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 that their countryman had taken charge of al Qaeda.

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.”


DUBAI (Reuters) – By Sara Anabtawi(Reporting by Sara Anabtawi, Isabel Coles and Cairo bureau, William Maclean in London, Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Reed Stevenson; Editing by Louise Ireland)


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