Ayman al Zawahiri, who is likely to be the new chief of al Qaeda, is not popular among other leaders of the terrorist outfit and his elevation may result in a bitter fight in the organisation, a senior US official has said.
"Al Zawahiri is obviously the presumed successor, but there are strong indications that he is not popular within certain circles of the group," the senior US intelligence official said, adding that it is an open question as to who will take over from Osama bin Laden.
"It is of course an anathema for al Qaeda to hold free and fair elections, but if such elections were held Zawahiri would most likely have a fight on his hands," he said.
The official said that some members of al Qaeda believed that Zawahiri is extremely controlling, is a macro manager and is not especially charismatic.
Refraining from speculating on who would succeed bin Laden, he said there are a number of senior leaders in the outfit who could step up to take up that position.
Bin Laden was killed when US special forces carried out a raid on a compound near the Pakistan Military Academy in the garrison city of Abbottabad on May 2.
Soon after the killing of bin Laden, US officials said the al Qaeda number two, al Zawahiri, would have difficulties in maintaining the loyalty of bin Laden's large followers.
"As the only al Qaeda leader whose authority was universally respected, bin Laden also maintained his cohesion, while Zawahiri is not as well respected within the outfit. He probably will have difficulty maintaining the loyalty of bin Laden's largely Gulf Arab followers," the official said.
59-year-old Zawahiri, an Egyptian Islamic theologian, was longtime deputy of bin Laden. He was the second and last "emir" of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, an affiliate of al Qaeda.
The official said that the death of bin Laden marks the single greatest victory in the US-led campaign to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.
"Bin Laden was al Qaeda's only commander in its 22-year history, and largely responsible for its mystique, attraction among violent jihadists, and its focus on America as a terrorist target. Although it may not fragment immediately, the loss of bin Laden puts the group on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse," the official said.
He said that it is most fitting that bin Laden's death comes at a time of great movement towards freedom and democracy that is sweeping the Arab world.
"He (bin Laden) stood in direct opposition to what the greatest men and women throughout the Middle East and North Africa are risking their lives for: individual rights and human dignity," the official added.