Al-Qaeda faces succession quandary after Zawahiri killing

The killing of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in a US drone strike won’t have an effect on the operations of the fear group’s associates internationally, however opens the best way for a doubtlessly troubled succession course of.

The Egyptian jihadist, who the USA says has been killed in a hideout within the Afghan capital Kabul, by no means even tried to copy the charisma and affect of his predecessor Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 assaults in opposition to the USA.

However after US particular forces killed bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, he performed a key position in encouraging a decentralisation of the group, which resulted in Al-Qaeda franchises rising all around the planet.

These embody the Al-Shabaab who nonetheless management a big chunk of rural Somalia, the JNIM lively in West Africa — specifically Mali, and the Al-Qaeda within the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) department.

“He accepted main new gamers within the Al-Qaeda community,” mentioned Hans-Jakob Schindler, director of the NGO Counter-Extremism Mission and a former UN advisor.

“So it’s a blow to Al-Qaeda,” he mentioned. However “it isn’t going to cease something” deliberate by Al-Qaeda associates.

The more than likely successors pointed to by analysts contacted by AFP embody two different Egyptians.

One contender is Saif al-Adel, a former Egyptian particular forces lieutenant-colonel and determine within the outdated guard of Al-Qaeda, whose presence has been reported in Iran.

The Islamic republic’s Shiite rulers formally oppose the Sunni Al-Qaeda however opponents have repeatedly accused Iran of cooperating with community and giving sanctuary to its leaders.

Additionally within the operating is Abu Abd al-Karim al-Masri who’s a part of the management of Syrian jihadist group Hurras al-Din and believed to be in Syria.

“Zawahiri was not concerned within the day-to-day decision-making of the associates… however you want a figurehead with a sure prominence and seniority as a result of all of the heads of all of the associates must swear private loyalty to him,” mentioned Schindler.

“So changing him goes to be a little bit of a problem.”

Rita Katz, the director and co-founder of the SITE Intelligence Group, mentioned the Al-Qaeda succession was the “massive query” within the wake of the killing of Zawahiri.

“In contrast to the scenario after Osama bin Laden’s killing, a lot of its management has moved to Syria, the place many have been killed,” she mentioned.

She mentioned that little is understood in regards to the whereabouts of Adel however emphasised it was removed from sure he was nonetheless within the Islamic republic, the place observers consider he spent some twenty years.

“Rumours are that he was launched from jail in Iran and moved to Syria. Nevertheless not a lot is understood,” she mentioned.

Adel joined the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group within the Nineteen Eighties. He was arrested however later freed, and travelled to Afghanistan to affix Al-Qaeda underneath Zawahiri.

Scrutiny over Tehran’s alleged relationship with Al-Qaeda intensified in August 2020 following the killing in Tehran, reportedly by Israeli brokers, of Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, the group’s former quantity two underneath Zawahiri and identified by his nom-de-guerre of Abu Mohammed al-Masri.

This prompted then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo to say — only a week earlier than his boss president Donald Trump left workplace — that Iran was the “new Afghanistan” for Al-Qaeda militants, an announcement that was met with some scepticism by analysts.

The Soufan Middle, a US-based safety analysis organisation, mentioned the killing of a variety of Al-Qaeda outdated guard figures in recent times had left the community with a “dwindling bench of potential successors”.

It mentioned Adel’s “lengthy presence” in overwhelmingly Shiite Iran “may taint his candidature in sure circles”.

Youthful Al-Qaeda cadres could want a determine like Masri who in Syria “labored assiduously to domesticate ties with potential recruits extra targeted on native targets and motivated by parochial grievances in areas engulfed by civil battle and insurgency”.

“The collection of Al-Qaeda’s subsequent chief will inform an ideal deal in regards to the future plans of the organisation,” it mentioned.