While the terrorist group is not short of competitors, its ranks are scattered and more geographically dispersed than they were 10 or 20 years ago.
Here’s what we know about the next al-Qaeda leader.
The man most likely by many analysts to be al-Zawahiri’s successor is Saif al-Adel, a former Egyptian commando and one of the last survivors of al-Qaeda’s “founding generation” who has spent most of the past two decades in Iran.
Adel was a loyal servant of Osama bin Laden before acting as the interim leader of al-Qaeda in 2011. He organized the succession process for al-Zawahiri because this was bin Laden’s wish—although Adel himself may have been a more effective choice as a competitor than ISIS grew in the following years.
Saif al-Adl is his nom de guerre, and it translates to Saif al-Adl. It’s not the only mystery around the man.
There are only two purported photos of him. It is said that he faked his death in his twenties. His status in Iran is also unclear: sometimes detained, sometimes under house arrest, sometimes at large.
Ali Soufan, a former FBI special agent and author of “Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State,” describes Adel as an absolute insider, someone well-connected across many countries, and a skilled military tactician. He has lived most of his life and breathing in the base vent.
Soufan wrote in the Counterterrorism Center’s Sentinel recently that Adel played “a pivotal role in the daring attacks from the ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident in Somalia to the bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa and the suicide attack on the destroyer USS Cole.”
“When he acts, he does so with ruthless efficiency,” Soufan added. “Above all, he is a pragmatist – a man who would have known that despite the odious necessity of living in the shadow of [Shia] The government is a curse for the year [al Qaeda]His best chance of survival, and therefore his continued effectiveness in jihad, lies in returning to Iran.”
Soufan also notes that al-Adl was a mentor to al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose organization later morphed into ISIS.
“Saif as a prince has a rare chance to attract some former Islamic State members again [al Qaeda]Tinder suggests.
subsidiaries of Africa
A United Nations expert report earlier this year confirmed that others running for the leadership of al-Qaeda were among the group’s powerful African groups.
She mentioned three potential candidates besides Justice: Abd al-Rahman al-Mughrabi. Yazid Mubarak, leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb; and Ahmed Dire, the leader of Al-Shabab in Somalia.
Maghrebi, so to speak, will keep him in the family, because he is Al-Zawahiri’s son-in-law. But he is Moroccan in an organization historically dominated by the Saudis and the Egyptians.
He was designated by the US State Department last year as a global terrorist designated by the US State Department, calling him the “long-time director” of al-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media operation. He is 52 years old.
In papers found in bin Laden’s Pakistani hideout, another prominent al-Qaeda figure said that al-Mughrabi “has high morals, can keep a secret, is patient. His ideology is wise, and he has excellent consciousness.”
Mubarak, an Algerian, became the leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2020. He is also known as Abu Ubaida Youssef al-Anabi.
On his appointment, the State Department said he “was expected to play a role in the global management of al-Qaeda,” as did his predecessor as leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
He is a veteran of the jihad in the Sahel region, where al-Qaeda and ISIS are vying for supremacy.
Another branch that has survived despite the best efforts of the United States and a multinational force in East Africa is Al-Shabab in Somalia. It was prone to internal divisions and its fortunes fluctuated dramatically, but it survived the challenge of the nascent Islamic State.
Diriyah has been its leader since 2014, an unlikely lifetime long. Al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda united a decade ago, and al-Dari’i was quick to pledge allegiance to al-Zawahiri when he became a leader.
For al-Qaeda, appointing a leader from Africa would be a cultural leap. Some former al-Qaeda insiders say that prominent Egyptian and Saudi figures within the organization often viewed African affiliates with disdain.
Al-Qaeda had only two leaders, and it is difficult to discern the current state of the ruling Shura Council, which had a decisive role in electing al-Zawahiri. When al-Zawahiri was chosen, bin Laden had already appointed him as his successor, but it took some time to earn al-Bayat – an oath of allegiance – to the members of the outlying council. The working assumption among analysts is that within the next few weeks, members of the Shura Council may begin announcing al-Bayat to the third al-Qaeda leader.
The leadership of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, has also been wiped out due to US and Saudi operations.
Can Al Qaeda reinvent itself?
However, there may be opportunities for al-Qaeda to reinvent itself – whether Adel becomes the next leader or al-Qaeda turns into the next generation of battle-hardened African jihadists.
The United Nations Committee of Experts on International Terrorism believes that “the international context is favorable.” [al Qaeda]who intends to be recognized once again as the leader of the global jihad.”
The Islamic State has also waned in the Middle East (although it has maintained a lethal presence through its African affiliates and has survived in parts of Syria and Iraq).”[al Qaeda] Propaganda is now better developed to compete with ISIS [ISIS] as the main actor in provoking the international threat.”
Inside Afghanistan, al-Qaeda’s dominant presence has been in the south and east, although UN experts have indicated that it may be seeking to establish a presence in the western provinces bordering Iran.
Al-Qaeda is not without friends inside Afghanistan, other than its long historical relationship with the Haqqani network, the powerful player within the Taliban regime. Its branches in Central Asia, such as the Turkistan Islamic Party, also maintain a presence.
It seems likely that no matter who succeeds Zawahiri, the group’s leadership will continue to have its center of gravity in Afghanistan as long as the Taliban rules the country, even if many of its operations take place thousands of miles away.
The successor’s mission will be to re-establish the group’s importance while harnessing disparate privileges across Asia, Africa and the Middle East – and perhaps inspiring a new generation to carry out attacks in its name in western cities.