The death this week of Al Qaeda’s deputy leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi, is likely to accelerate a shift in power from the group’s dwindling leadership in Pakistan to its increasingly autonomous franchises, particularly the branch in Yemen, whose focus on attacking American interests is sure to continue, according to United States counterterrorism officials.
For now, Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s nominal leader, still holds the broad influence that he has consolidated since Osama bin Laden’s death last year. But the hierarchical structure of global jihad may be loosening a bit. Mr. Libi’s death in a drone strike has torn at the connective tissue between the group’s embattled leadership in Pakistan and its far-flung affiliates across the Middle East and Africa.
Mr. Libi’s killing may even augur increased violence as younger, more impetuous fighters vie to seize the mantle of global leadership, analysts say. At the top of that list are leaders from the affiliate in Yemen, formally known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or A.Q.A.P., who three times in the last three years have tried unsuccessfully to blow up commercial airliners bound for the United States. The most recent plot was thwarted last month when the suicide bomber turned out to be simultaneously working for the Saudi, British and American intelligence agencies.