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Ilyas Kashmiri ahead in race to lead Qaeda

world Updated: May 06, 2011 01:33 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
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So, who is going to succeed Osama bin Laden at al Qaeda? During the last 48 hours since bin Laden has been killed, a new name - besides the usual suspects - is surging to the top: Ilyas Kashmiri, a man described by the Indian security establishment as No 3 in the al Qaeda hierarchy in Pakistan.

The other two names that are being speculated on are Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor and bin Laden's deputy of many years, and the US-born chief of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Anwar al-Aulaqui.

Kashmiri "will probably be the operational mastermind and most dangerous", said Bruce Riedel, former CIA officer who used to be once called The Spy Who Knew Everything.

When asked which of the three will go through, Riedel said, "All three will play a role."

Born in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Kashmiri is believed to have served with the Special Services Group of the Pakistan army before going over to the other side.

He now heads the 313 Brigade, military wing of the al Qaeda in Pakistan, "deriving its name from the 313 soldiers who stood with Prophet Muhammad at the decisive Battle of Badr in 624 AD".

The prospect of Kashmiri's rise has already worried intelligence officers in India. But an officer said in New Delhi on condition of anonymity that his rise "may not result in more India-focused operations in the immediate future. But it can't be good news for us."

But Kashmiri, US government sources said, may not even seek the top job. He may let Zawahiri through, though the Egyptian doctor has a lot going against him - himself and his style of functioning.

Zawahiri is said be extremely abrasive. "He is a much more divisive figure, and he lacks Bin Laden's charisma," said terrorism expert Daniel Byman.

When Zawahiri ran the Egyptian Islamic Jihad much before teaming up with Bin Laden, there were repeated challenges to his leadership. He had to step down, but later stepped back up.

Even Aulaqui has more on his resume as a leader. But the distance from the epicentre of the Islamist movement is likely to go against him.

For the moment, however, everyone is waiting to know the contents of the treasure trove of intelligence the Navy Seals spirited away from Abbottabad. There might be a succession plan in there somewhere prepared by bin Laden.