Instant view: Zawahri takes over as al Qaeda leader

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 16, 2011 9:19 AM
Instant view: Zawahri takes over as al Qaeda leader

(Reuters) - Veteran militant Ayman al-Zawahri has taken command of al Qaeda after the killing of Osama bin Laden, an Islamist website said on Thursday, a move that had been expected after his many years as second in command.

Here is some reaction:

THOMAS HEGGHAMMER, NORWEGIAN Defense RESEARCH ESTABLISHMENT

I don't expect to see any major shifts in al Qaeda's strategy or tactics under al-Zawahri. He has had a hand on the wheel for a long time, so we know in which direction he wants to go. I expect business as usual; al Qaeda central will continue to try to mount large operations in the West while liaising with its affiliates in Yemen and elsewhere.

The main changes will probably be on the public relations front. Al-Zawahri will likely be a more prolific communicator than bin Laden was. He is also somewhat more likely to get embroiled in debates with other activists inside and outside the organization.

NOMAN BENOTMAN, QUILLIAM FOUNDATION

Zawahri has always been the obvious successor to Osama bin Laden and no one else in al Qaeda has the knowledge, experience and range of contacts that he has. His appointment as leader is the natural move by al-Qaeda.

However it is surprising that al Qaeda took such a long time to announce Zawahri as the group's new leader. This is a sign that there may have been disputes and conflicts within al Qaeda, including over his leadership, that Zawahri needed to resolve before formally taking over.

Zawahri's first step as leader will be to try to decontaminate the group's reputation in the Muslim world. Ever since the Iraq war, al-Qaeda has been mistrusted by many Muslims and even by other hardline Islamist groups for its killing of Muslim civilians. Zawahri's first priority will be to restore the al Qaeda brand.

Zawahri will also try to reposition al Qaeda in the Middle East in order to take advantage of the region's pro-democracy uprisings. After being initially surprised by the uprisings, al Qaeda is now seeing the changes in the Arab world as an opportunity to reassert itself in key countries such as Egypt. As a result we should not be surprised if al-Qaeda tries to adopt a more intellectual and political tone and to try to move away from being seen as a purely terrorist organization.

RITA KATZ, SITE INTELLIGENCE GROUP

Zawahri was the most logical successor for bin Laden. As one of al Qaeda's earliest leaders and ideologues who deeply understands how the organization operates, he continues to enjoy great respect within the global jihadist community and is currently al-Qaeda's most prominent figurehead.

HENRY WILKINSON, JANUSIAN SECURITY CONSULTANTS

Will this alter the threat? A key question is whether he will try to cement his authority by staging a major attack.

We will presumably see public messages of support for him from al Qaeda's branches and affiliates. But a terrorist organization needs to keep launching attacks to remain credible, and al Qaeda has not managed to attack on the scale of 9/11 since 2001. Its capacities have been on a downward slope ever since. Al Qaeda's main achievement has been to have survived.

KARIM SABET, 34, EGYPTIAN, DIRECTOR OF AN OIL AND GAS START-UP

No surprise there. He's been his loyal No. 2 forever. Zawahri seems even more of a mad man than Osama was and he'll want to prove himself by going on the attack soon. Another devil killing in the name of Islam. Disgusting.

FORMER CIA OPERATIONS OFFICER JOHN J. LEBEAU

Zawahri has a reputation as a stubborn and contentious individual, not universally popular within jihadist ranks. He will tenuously preside over an organization that has to an important extent mutated into loose networks of quasi-autonomous units which make their own decisions and plan and conduct their own operations.

CIA drone strikes have importantly reduced the ranks of experienced AQ fighters and leaders, and Zawahri will doubtless continue to worry about his own personal security, further reducing his effectiveness.

It remains to be seen if he has the power of personality and the requisite organizational skills to rejuvenate al Qaeda and change its fortunes while bettering its financial reserves.

SARAH HUSSEIN, WORKS IN AN EGYPTIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION

Whether its Bin Laden or Zawahri, they have a certain ideology that they are working for, that has nothing to do with their nationalities. So who becomes the head doesn't affect me here in Egypt.

KAMRAN BOKHARI, MIDDLE EAST AND SOUTH ASIA DIRECTOR FOR GLOBAL INTELLIGENCE FIRM STRATFOR

I don't think there is a whole lot of significance. Al Qaeda prime (as opposed to its offshoots) has taken a beating. Osama was recently killed and before that many of their senior operatives have either been captured or killed in drone strikes in Pakistan. So the original organization has been marginalized so I don't know what difference this will make.

As far as what is happening in the Muslim world, al Qaeda seems to be really irrelevant to that, especially in the Arab world. All this while, since 9/11, the world has been really focused on al Qaeda and jihadism as if it was the thing but with the Arab unrest it has become very clear that all this while the Arab world and the large Islamic world has been moving in a different direction.

Most western observers thought jihadism is what defines the Middle East but the Arab unrest has basically shattered that perception. I don't know if al Qaeda the organization can be put back on the map, I seriously doubt that.

SAJJAN GOHEL, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY DIRECTOR, ASIA-PACIFIC FOUNDATION

The only surprise is why it has taken al Qaeda so long to issue a message. It could be that there have been internal issues within the group especially between the Egyptian and Libyan factions. It could also be for more practical issues that al-Zawahri was concerned the U.S. was monitoring the movements of al Qaeda couriers in Pakistan following bin Laden's death.

Al-Zawahri has been in practical command of al Qaeda's strategic direction for many years. Bin Laden was clearly consulted about policy and he would give his consent but in terms of direction, whether it was against the 'near enemy', Egypt, or the 'far enemy', the United States, that was very much down to al-Zawahri.

(Reporting by Edmund Blair and Dina Zayed in Cairo, Shaimaa Fayed in Dubai and William Maclean and Mark Hosenball in London, Editing by Elizabeth Piper)