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Can Al-Qaida's No. 2 Fill Bin Laden's Shoes?

by Wright Bryan
May 2, 2011

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Wright Bryan

Will Osama bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri take command of al-Qaida? Presidential adviser John Brennan said in a briefing today that he thinks Zawahiri is not a sure thing to lead a unified al-Qaida:

This is a strategic blow to al Qaeda. It is a necessary but not necessarily sufficient blow to lead to its demise. But we are determined to destroy it. I think we have a lot better opportunity now that al Qaeda — that bin Laden is out of there to destroy that organization, create fractures within it.

The number two, Zawahiri is not charismatic. He has not been — was not involved in the fight earlier on in Afghanistan, so — and I think he has a lot of detractors within the organization. And I think you're going to see them start eating themselves from within more and more.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports that al-Qaida is diversified enough to weather losses in its leadership, even the loss of its founders bin Laden and Zawahiri. Threats in the future are likely to come from places such as Yemen and people such as radical imam Anwar al-Awlaki. The U.S. born al-Awlaki has a large following on the Internet and is seen as the type of leader who could push his young followers into action.

Jason Burke at The Guardian agrees that competition and conflict between groups aligned with or sympathetic to al-Qaida are likely to be the hallmark of this purposely decentralized organization:

The central leadership of al-Qaida has been splintered in recent years, often pitting Saudi, Egyptian and Libyan militants against each other. It is now likely to definitively fracture.

The Guardian also has a nice graphic identifying and plotting out the fates of al-Qaida's top leadership over the last 10 years.

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