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Who will become al-Qaida’s next leader?

Courtesy of MCT

After Osama bin Laden’s death, questions rose among experts about who would be the most likely candidate to fill his spot as leader of al-Qaida.

“First and foremost al-Qaida has to choose a new leader; whoever succeeds bin Laden faces a formidable challenge. Filling bin Laden’s shoes is by no means easy,” James M. Dorsey, a former foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and professor at the University of Singapore, said in a May 4 email.

After bin Laden’s death, Egyptian Saif al-Adel, who holds a spot on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list, became the interim leader of al-Qaida, but Dorsey stressed that his leadership is only temporary.

“He’s an obvious choice given his military background. It’s too early to judge his longevity. Al-Qaida is focused on more existential issues at this moment,” Dorsey said. “Having said that, he’s highly respected and viewed as intelligent in addition to being an English speaker.”

Peter Mansoor, chair of Military History at OSU, said in a May 5 email that Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, who also holds a spot on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list, is without a doubt the candidate to replace bin Laden’s leadership in command.

“Making al-Qaida palatable and acceptable to Arabs who have opted in mass demonstrations against violence and jihad involves changes to the group’s ideology and strategy that may be beyond what (he) is capable of,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey said in an email that al-Zahawiri is not the only candidate capable of filling bin Laden’s shoes.

“Al-Zawahiri is the leading contender but there (are) others,” Dorsey said. “Bin Laden wanted al-Qaida to become a broad-based (Islamic) movement and to do so, he did not appoint a successor, but furthered the careers of several younger militants.”

Dorsey said another candidate to take over the spot of new chief of al-Qaida is Ayman al-Awlaki because large crowds of young Islamic radicals worldwide follow him throughout the “Internet in Europe and the United States.”

“Awlaki is a charismatic Yemeni-American Islamic scholar who has been a successful recruiter for al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP),” Dorsey said.

Dorsey also named two other potential candidates he thought could be in charge of leading al-Qaida’s new operations. The first is temporary leader al-Adel, a member of al-Qaida’s military committee, and the second is Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan who gained battle experience with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research for the Foundation Defense of Democracies, said bin Laden’s death makes al-Zawahiri the automatic candidate as new leader of al-Qaida.

“With bin Laden’s death, al-Zawahiri automatically stepped up the ladder,” Schanzer said.

Whether he can run the operations like bin Laden is a completely different story, he said.

Schanzer said unlike al-Zawahiri, al-Alwaki has more prestige among jihadist groups.

“Al-Alwaki is the most enterprising of all the leaders of al-Qaida,” Schanzer said. “Al-Zawahiri is part of the old guard, whereas al-Awlaki is part of a new guard or newer generation.”

Schanzer said al-Awlaki is known for his involvement in terrorist acts and is wanted by the U.S. authorities for his involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.

“He is a prolific person and made a number of attacks to build himself a voice globally,” Schanzer said.

Stefano Casertano, professor of international studies at Potsdam University in Germany, said al-Awlaki is very dangerous.

“As a former imam, he is capable of providing the organization with the spiritual leadership that died with bin Laden,” Casertano said in a May 9 email. “Nevertheless, it shall still be proven how much (al-Awaki) belongs to the actual organization of al-Qaida.”

Casertano said al-Zawahiri has the talents to become a spiritual leader and financial leader as bin Laden once was.

Al-Zawahiri is the logistical planner of al-Qaida, Casertano said, and the urgent issue now is keeping up with the funding.

“The organization does not seem very permeable at allowing new people on the stop spots,” Casertano said. “Al-Qaida is not a U.S. corporation, open and meritocratic: it is a conservative and dogmatic gang.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 25, 2011

An earlier version of this article said that Mansoor said, “Making al-Qaida palatable and acceptable to Arabs who have opted in mass demonstrations against violence and jihad involves changes to the group’s ideology and strategy that may be beyond what (he) is capable of.” In fact, Dorsey said that.

 

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