Al-Qaeda’s ‘strange’ silence in front of the murdered leader

Al-Qaeda's 'strange' silence in front of the murdered leader

Al Qaeda has not confirmed the death of leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. (File)

Paris, France:

Five months after the US announced the death of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan, the global jihadist group has yet to confirm his death or announce a new leader.

In early August, US President Joe Biden said the US armed forces had fired two missiles from a drone flying above the Afghan capital, hitting al-Zawahiri’s safe house and kill him.

But the group’s propaganda arms continued to broadcast undated audio or video messages of the bearded Egyptian thinker, who led the group after the US special forces killed people. charismatic founder Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.

“This is really weird,” said Hans-Jakob Schindler, director of the Anti-Extremism Project think tank.

“A network only works with one leader. You need someone around to get it all coming together.”

Almost all options remain open.

Researchers Raffaello Pantucci and Kabir Taneja wrote in early December on the Lawfare website: “It is of course possible that the United States was wrong about his death.

But “this seems unlikely given the confidence that President Biden has publicly spoken about the strike.”

The successor in hiding?

Another possibility is that the group has so far failed to make contact with Zawahiri’s most likely successor, his former number two figure, who goes by the nickname Saif al-Adl or “sword of justice” “.

A former Egyptian special forces lieutenant colonel who turned to jihadism in the 1980s, he is believed by observers to be in Iran.

The Islamic republic’s Shiite rulers officially oppose Sunni Al-Qaeda, but opponents have repeatedly accused Iran of collaborating with the network and providing refuge to its leaders.

For Schindler, Saif al-Adl “is the responsibility but also the property of the Iranian regime”.

In its interest, Tehran can decide to hand him over to the United States, or allow him to attack the West.

Pantucci and Taneja suggest that Al-Qaeda could also keep quiet about Zawahiri’s death under pressure from the Taliban.

The group issued a careful statement in August, neither confirming Zawahiri’s presence in Afghanistan nor acknowledging his death.

“Their decision not to comment is likely part of an effort to manage their fragile but deep relationship with Al-Qaeda, while avoiding drawing attention to the presence of a foreign terrorist group.” beyond their direct agreement with the United States,” they said.

Saif al-Adl may also be dead or in hiding to avoid the fate of his predecessor or the last two leaders of the network’s main rival, the Islamic State group, who were also killed last year. .

Zawahiri did not attempt to imitate bin Laden’s prestige and influence after he took over the network but played an important role in decentralizing the group.

Al-Qaeda today is a far cry from the group that carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States.

It now has scattered autonomy across the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia, less reliant on a central command than before for operations, funding and strategy.

‘Limited importance’

Barak Mendelsohn, an expert on Al-Qaeda based in the US, said it was hard to see why the group took the time to announce a new leader, adding that the delay was not “very important. important”.

“Ultimately, the wait reflects the limited importance of the Al-Qaeda hub,” he said.

“It’s a symbol that unifies groups across borders, but its operational relevance is low.”

The arch-enemy of the Islamic State of Al-Qaeda has faced similar difficulties in appointing leadership since “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself in a US raid. in Syria in 2019.

After two of his successors were killed last year, IS this fall chose an unknown relative as its new leader, who claims the Prophet’s legacy from the Quraysh tribe to strengthen its legitimacy. his law.

Tore Hamming, a fellow at the International Research Center on Radicalization, said Al-Qaeda doesn’t necessarily have to have an iconic leader to speak on its behalf.

“We’ve seen with (the group) Islamic State since 2019, it doesn’t have to matter,” he said.

IS elected new caliphs, but “no one knows who they are and has never heard from them. However, the affiliates remain loyal,” he explained.

“For Al-Qaeda, that can happen, too, with just a council of senior figures playing the role of a friend,” or leader.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from an aggregated feed.)

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