A fierce succession battle appears to be gripping the senior ranks of al Qaeda in the wake of the death of leader Osama bin Laden, pitting regional affiliates against the central "hardcore" of the organisation.
Reports from Pakistan have named an Egyptian former special forces officer,
Saif al-Adel, as the acting leader of al Qaeda.
Adel, who is in his late 40s, is a veteran militant who was close to bin Laden in the 1990s. He was detained in Iran after fleeing Afghanistan following the ouster of the Taliban in 2001. According to Noman Benotman, a former Libyan militant now living in London, al-Adel, also known as Muhamad Ibrahim Makkawi, was released from Iranian detention and returned to Pakistan last year.
The report in the News newspaper of Pakistan identified al-Adel as having been chosen as "interim leader" after a meeting at "an undisclosed location". It said none of the sons of bin Laden had shown willingness to take up a formal position within the organisation.
If confirmed, the appointment of al-Adel is a major blow to bin Laden's close associate Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian extremist who has long been seen as the group's number two and key strategist.
It could provide the first evidence of a major split within militant ranks. Senior al Qaeda-affiliated extremists in both Iraq and Yemen have already pledged their support for Zawahiri, who is 59 and among the oldest contenders for the top position, and may not accept the leadership of Adel.
Rashad Mohammed Saeed Ismail, a senior Yemeni cleric who was close to bin Laden and has been linked to the local "al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" affiliate, was quoted by the Yemen Times as saying "Zawahiri is the best candidate".
Security sources have told the Guardian that until there is some kind of communication from verifiable al Qaeda sources - like the statement announcing bin Laden's death - it is impossible to be certain who will become overall leader.
Al Qaeda has always been troubled by factional splits. Evidence has emerged of increasingly acrimonious disputes between Libyan, Egyptian and other elements in recent years. There are generational differences as well as fierce debates over tactics and strategy.
"Some leading figures inside al-Qaeda argue is too soft, others that it is too extreme. Some want a greater focus on Egypt; others want a greater focus on other countries such as the Yemen," Benotman, the former militant, said recently.
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