This was in headlines all night but I want to make sure people see it. Newsweek‘s got two named sources as well as general corroboration from a U.S. intel analyst, but it’s still almost too tasty to believe. On the other hand, if it’s disinformation, what goal does it advance? Lulling us into a false sense of security by portraying AQ as divided? Given the grimness of the recent NIE, that’s not going to work. The simplest explanation may be that it is true — and if it is, it’s a golden opportunity for Musharraf to exploit whatever intelligence contacts he has with the al-Libi wing to find out where Zawahiri’s hiding. If the good doctor turns up dead within the next couple of months, this might be why.

Who was the shadowy general behind the wave of violence [in Pakistan in the wake of the Red Mosque assault]? Pakistani and Taliban officials interviewed recently by NEWSWEEK say it was none other than Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the Qaeda No. 2 who has also been appearing in a recent flurry of audio- and videotapes. While Osama bin Laden has been keeping a low profile—he may be ill, U.S. intel officials say—Zawahiri has moved aggressively to take operational control of the group. In so doing, Zawahiri has provoked a potentially serious ideological split within Al Qaeda over whether he is growing too powerful, and has become obsessed with toppling Musharraf, according to two jihadists interviewed by NEWSWEEK last week…

The anti-Zawahiri faction in Al Qaeda fears his actions may be jeopardizing [their] safe haven [in Waziristan and Bajaur], according to the two jihadists interviewed by NEWSWEEK. Both have proved reliable in the past: they are Omar Farooqi, the nom de guerre for a veteran Taliban fighter and chief liaison officer between insurgent forces in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, and Hemat Khan, a Taliban operative with links to Al Qaeda. They say Zawahiri’s personal jihad has angered Al Qaeda’s so-called Libyan faction, which intel officials believe may be led by the charismatic Abu Yahya al-Libi, who made a daring escape from an American high-security lockup at Baghram air base in 2005. The Libyan Islamists, along with bin Laden and other senior Qaeda leaders, would love to see Musharraf gone, too. But they fear that Zawahiri is inviting the Pakistani leader’s wrath, prematurely opening up another battlefront before the jihadists have properly consolidated their position…

The Egyptian-born Zawahiri is nominal leader of the Egyptian faction, the Jamaat al-Jihad, which he united with Al Qaeda in the 1990s. It is larger and contains more senior people than the Libyan group. Both jihadist sources who spoke to NEWSWEEK say there is now what Khan calls “a clear divide” between the two factions. In part, the Libyans seem to be irked by Zawahiri’s unchecked ego and self-righteousness. “The Libyans say he’s too extremist,” says Farooqi, and they resent Zawahiri for appearing to speak for bin Laden. “Libyans tell me that the sheik [bin Laden] has not appointed a successor and that only the U.S. government and the international media talk of Zawahiri as being the deputy,” Farooqi says…

Bin Laden himself has not personally intervened to end the internal feud, according to the jihadist sources. For security reasons he rarely has face-to-face meetings with his deputies. “He doesn’t want to get involved,” says Khan. “He’s already too busy with strategic planning and inspirational duties and with directing his own security.” Instead, bin Laden has tried to resolve the dispute by dividing duties between the two factions and appointing a pair of mediators, these sources say.

Suddenly we’ve got two big fish in the net who are alleged to be in personal contact with Zawahiri: Abdul Aziz Ghazi, a.k.a. Burqa Boy, who was reportedly exchanging love letters with him from the Red Mosque about suicide bombs, and Khalid al-Mashhadani, a.k.a. Omar al-Baghdadi, fictional leader of the fictional Islamic State of Iraq, who apparently has confessed to being an intermediary between Zawahiri and AQI leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri. With the intel we should be getting from those two, if we don’t find him soon we’re never going to find him.