At al-Qaeda, everything old is new again. Six weeks after the US brought justice to Osama bin Laden, the terrorist network finally got around to naming his replacement — and it’s the former Number Two, Ayman al-Zawahiri. While that hardly comes as a surprise, the delay has analysts wondering if the decision could split the network:
Al Qaeda has named a former deputy to Osama bin Laden as its new terror leader following bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs in May, the organization announced on a jihadi website overnight.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian-born doctor who turns 60 on Sunday, was identified in the statement as the group’s new emir in a “new era” for al Qaeda — the group he helped found with bin Laden. …
Al-Zawahiri was long believed to be a leading contender to take over al Qaeda, though it took the organization more than a month to announce the transition. Noman Benotman, a former al Qaeda member and close associate of al-Zawahiri’s in the 1990s, told ABC News the delay is a sign there were likely disputes within al Qaeda over al-Zawahiri’s leadership.
Well, nothing says “new era” like the same-old, same-old — but the network probably had little choice. Had Zawahiri not gotten the nod, it would have likely produced an even bigger split. The Egyptian contingent in AQ has been a key element to its growth and its deadliness. Zawahiri brought that into AQ, and had he been rejected for the top spot, he may have taken it with him on the way out.
However, Zawahiri’s ascension brings its own problems. He’s notoriously Egypt-centric, which will have other factions struggling for any power in the network. ABC’s source within US intelligence questions whether he can maintain loyalty with other groups outside of the small circle of Egyptians, while at the same time “decontaminating” AQ in the region for their indiscriminate killing of fellow Muslims.
Their refusal to take part in the so-called Arab Spring might have other Arabs and perhaps even Egyptians angry and distant from AQ, former AQ member Noman Benotman told ABC News, but it’s more likely that the Arabs of the region see AQ as irrelevant. Events have passed AQ and Zawahiri by, and Arabs want to take control of their own destinies, not blow themselves up for a new Caliphate that would be every bit as dictatorial as the regimes they want to overthrow. Instead of staying in Egypt and fighting with the Muslim Brotherhood for the end to the Mubarak regime, Zawahiri left to fight other battles and now has little claim on the movement in his home country regardless of what direction it takes.
ABC also has a new report on the threat from Yemen that bin Laden was attempting to harness in his final days. It gives a little more context for current American activity in the chaotic underbelly of the Arabian peninsula, but also prompts the question of whether Zawahiri would have any chance of succeeding where bin Laden with his Yemeni ties seemingly failed: