Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian surgeon-turned-jihadist ideologue, has been appointed the new chief of the al Qaeda to succeed the group’s slain leader Osama bin Laden, according to a statement posted on militant websites.
Zawahiri, 59, one of the founders of the al Qaeda, played a defining role in the group for more than a decade as bin Laden’s deputy. Even before the announcement, he was widely regarded as the organisation’s de facto leader and public face.
The announcement, dated June 2011 but which surfaced on Thursday on jihadist sites, said the decision to appoint Zawahiri was made to pay respect to the “righteous martyrs” and to honour the legacy of bin Laden.
“Hereby, the general command of the Qaeda al-Jihad — and after the end of the consultations — we declare that Sheikh Dr Abu Muhammad Ayman al-Zawahiri (may God bless him) will take over the responsibility of command of the group,” CNN quoted the statement as saying.
Zawahiri is believed to run al Qaeda operations from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He had issued a eulogy for bin Laden last week, saying the al Qaeda’s leader had terrified the US when he was alive and would continue to do so in death.
Zawahiri was wanted in the US even before 9/11. He was indicted in absentia in 1999 for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 and was considered the mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 sailors.
Former U.S, intelligence officer Robert Ayers said Zawahri was “a man lacking in charisma, a pale shadow of bin Laden”.
“He’s a grey bureaucrat, not a leader who can energise and rally the troops. The only thing his promotion will accomplish is to elevate his priority as a target for the U.S.”
Sajjan Gohel of Asia-Pacific Foundation security consultants said Zawahri had been in practical charge of al Qaeda for many years, but lacked bin Laden’s presence and his “ability to unite the different Arab factions within the group”.