Reports: Al-Qaeda Names Interim Leader
May 18, 2011
News reports say Al-Qaeda has appointed a new interim leader to take the place of Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a U.S. raid on his hideout in Pakistan on May 2.
Al-Jazeera television and CNN identified him as Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian former special-forces officer who is a veteran militant.
He is in his late 40s or early 50s and is considered by U.S. prosecutors to be one of Al-Qaeda's leading military commanders.
U.S. prosecutors have indicted Adel for his suspected role in the 1998 bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. He is also suspected of setting up Al-Qaeda training camps in Sudan and Afghanistan in the 1990s.
According to the FBI, Adel -- who has a $5 million bounty on his head -- also goes by the names Muhamad Ibrahim Makkawi and Ibrahim al-Madani.
Analysts say that it is not yet clear whether naming Adel to the position of interim leader will make him the eventual successor to bin Laden.
"Saif al-Adel has not been appointed emir of Al-Qaeda," says Shashank Joshi of London's Royal United Services Institute.
"He has not been appointed to the same stature or position as Osama bin Laden and what that indicates is that Al-Qaeda as an organization has been unable to go through all of the procedural demands it has for appointing a leader, the process of issuing an oath of loyalty to the new leader, the process of convoking a shura or leadership meeting -- all those things have been impossible under the [current] circumstances."
If Adel were eventually made bin Laden's successor, that would mean the bypassing of Al-Qaeda's second-ranking leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, also an Egyptian.
Zawahri, 59, had been among bin Laden's closest associates and was frequently tipped by terrorism experts as the most likely successor.
It is unclear if Adel's promotion now signals a rift in the Al-Qaeda structure between his backers and those of Zawahri. There are no reports yet of Zawahri's reaction nor of that of other leaders of major Al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations such as Al-Qaeda in Yemen or Iraq.
Joshi also maintains that the naming of an interim leader, or even eventually a successor to bin Laden, will not guarantee the organization can quickly replace its spiritual father.
"The symbolic function that bin Laden played, that is entrenching and disseminating the Al-Qaeda brand, that cannot be replaced," he says.
"Even the most plausible succession candidate, the most well-known, those like Ayman Zawahri, they just don't have his charisma. They are seen as much more shrill, much more hectoring, there is none of that same romantic appeal."
Joshi says that among the most difficult challenges facing any new Al-Qaeda leader will be continuing to hold the organization's many autonomous groups within a centralized structure.
These groups looked to bin Laden to approve or disapprove key acts, such as whether a certain organization could launch operations outside of its area or whether it could merge with another organization, but a new leader will have to be highly respected to wield such authority.
A report in the Pakistani daily "The News" on May 18 said that Adel was chosen as "interim leader" of the organization after a meeting at an "undisclosed location."
Bin Laden's Sons 'Unwilling' To Take Formal Role
The paper also reported that "none of the sons of Osama bin Laden has shown willingness" to take a formal position in Al-Qaeda, but did not reveal the source of that information.
A 22-year-old son of bin-Laden died with his father and three associates in the U.S. raid this month on their hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Reuters reports that Adel was in Afghanistan during the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and subsequently fled to Iran.
According to media reports at the time, the Iranian government held Al-Qaeda members who escaped the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan under some form of house arrest and Adel was one of that group.
However, according to Arab media reports, the Iranian authorities released Adel from custody about a year ago and he is presumed to have then moved to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
compiled from agency reports
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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