Al-Qaeda likely to remain leader of jihadists even after Zawahiri

    Zawahiri (source: Store Norske Leksikon).

The assassination of Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan this summer is unlikely to diminish al-Qaeda’s status as a leader in world jihad, reports The Economist (August 2). The return to power of its Taliban allies a year ago gave al-Qaeda breathing room to communicate with followers, raise funds and organize. The magazine reports that a UN report published last month said that al-Qaeda’s leadership was playing an “advisory role” with the Taliban and that its fighters were present across the country. At the same time, al-Qaeda’s regional affiliates have also grown strong, including branches in the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan, al-Shabab in Somalia, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “The international context is favorable to al-Qaeda,” noted the UN report. A septuagenarian doctor with little of bin Laden’s charisma, Zawahiri was always an “unlikely vanguard for the global jihadist movement. His successor is likely to be Sayf al-Adl, the nom de guerre of an enigmatic Egyptian former commando who was briefly al-Qaeda’s interim leader before Zawahiri took the job.” Adl has a $10 million American bounty on his head for his role in attacks on American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. It is noteworthy that Adl has been based in Iran for around 20 years, often under de facto house arrest. The magazine adds that “Iran’s Shia regime has an uneasy, if pragmatic, relationship with the Sunni jihadists of al-Qaeda. Counter-terrorism officials have previously said that it is not clear whether Iran would allow him to leave. After Mr. Biden’s demonstration of America’s enduring counter-terrorism prowess, Mr. Adl might feel safer staying put.”