Saudi newspaper claims Zawahiri gave up bin Laden to take over AQ

Absurd, of course … or is it?  Were the Americans really this good at finally tracking down Osama bin Laden on their own that they could take him out without losing anyone at all — or did they have help from a high-level betrayal?  I think I finally found a conspiracy theory I can cheer:

Osama Bin Laden’s deputy led U.S. troops to the Al Qaeda leader’s hideout so he could take over the terrorist group, it was claimed today.

Egyptian Ayman Al Zawahiri, who has been touted widely as the man who will succeed Bin Laden as the head of Al Qaeda, turned his back on his terrorist leader following a prolonged power struggle, according to a Saudi newspaper.

The source for this theory is Al-Watan in Saudi Arabia, which is considered somewhat “reformist,” at least according to its Wikipedia entry, although not “reformist” enough to eschew the obligatory anti-Semitic propaganda that plagues most approved media in Arab nations.  In this case, though, the secret puppetmasters aren’t the Joooos; no one would buy that AQ is a puppet of Israel.  Instead, the way that Al-Watan describes the palace coup, the other bête noir of the Saudis were responsible, at least indirectly:

Zawahiri’s Egyptian ally Saif Al Adel is said to have moved to Pakistan last autumn as Al Qaeda’s ‘chief of staff’ after a period of house arrest in Iran.

With his return, Al Qaeda’s Egyptian faction then hatched a plan to dispose of Saudi-born Bin Laden after irresolvable divisions developed between the terrorist group’s top two men. …

The courier who led U.S. forces to Bin Laden was a Pakistani national working for Zawahiri, according to the source.

The man is said to have known he was being followed by American troops and to have intentionally led them to their target.

Call it the Pee Wee Herman defense: We meant to do that.  There are a few holes in that theory, however.  If they wanted bin Laden dead, it would have been much safer for Zawahiri to have the courier conduct the coup himself, for one thing.  Why bet that the Americans would pull the trigger on the raid?  For that matter, why not allow the ISI to cap Osama instead, thereby giving them a little more surface credibility on counterterrorism while still allowing Zawahiri to exploit AQ/Taliban connections within the Pakistani intel service?  Either way, it would have denied the Americans an obvious military and intelligence victory, as well as keeping bin Laden’s computer files from falling into the wrong hands.

Someone may have sold out bin Laden, but it’s unlikely to have been Ayman al-Zawahiri.  Still, this is precisely the kind of conspiracy theory we want to see arise in the aftermath of Osama’s demise.  Not only does it keep the enemy in the position of underestimating our capabilities, it’s likely to start an internal war within the AQ network if it really starts to catch hold among the terrorist rank and file.  It makes a post-Osama power struggle a little more likely, and at the very least increases the chances of AQ conducting a purge that will weaken their network significantly.