Skip to content
Al-Qaeda’s succession plan put to the test

The death of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a US airstrike will likely test the terror group’s resolve and coherency – and perhaps test long-drafted succession plans. date – just as he was apparently positioned to be the world’s pre-eminent jihadist threat.

Recent intelligence assessments had warned that al-Qaeda appeared to be enjoying a period of relative stability within its leadership and that the group was profiting from the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, with al-Qaeda leadership communicating more freely than in the past.

“The international context is favorable to al-Qaeda,” said a United Nations report last month, further warning that al-Qaeda “may ultimately become a greater source of directed threat” than its rival, the state. Islamic.

Only some former counterterrorism officials and analysts warn that while al-Qaeda has also used its newfound freedom in Afghanistan to solidify its hierarchy and line of succession, there are serious questions about how these plans can be implemented, taking into account geographical concerns. and the growing influence of the terrorist group’s African affiliates.

“It’s a challenge for al-Qaeda,” a former Western counterterrorism official told VOA, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss recent intelligence assessments.

In particular, the official cited concerns echoed by a number of intelligence agencies around the world regarding the status of longtime Zawahiri heir, Saif al-Adel.

Al-Qaeda and Iran

“He’s in Iran…are the Iranians letting him go?” asked the former official. “It’s a bit difficult to be the leader of Al-Qaeda when you’re stuck in a golden cage.”

Al-Qaeda’s number three, Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi, the terror group’s director general and head of its media operations, is also believed to be in Iran, along with several lower-ranking al-Qaeda officials.

And it’s not just al-Adel and al-Maghrebi.

The proliferation of al-Qaeda officials in Tehran once prompted former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to accuse Iran of becoming al-Qaeda’s new operational headquarters.

Other U.S. intelligence and diplomatic officials have been more cautious in their assessments, however, describing the relationship between Tehran and al-Qaeda as one of convenience and often transactional in nature.

In any case, some analysts see the link with Iran as a problem.

“It creates dilemmas,” said Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who specializes in jihadism. “[There are] questions of Iranian legitimacy or influence.

Rise of African subsidiaries

Likewise, there are potential challenges if al-Qaeda looks to the next few to replace Zawahiri: Yazid Mebrak with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ahmed Diriye with al-Qaeda’s Somali affiliate al-Shabab.

“It would also be unprecedented when senior management moves from the historical sanctuary of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region to different parts of Africa,” Zelin told VOA.

“Many of these groups, while listening to some sort of global struggle, have historically focused primarily on their local insurgencies or regional conflicts rather than anything Western-related,” he said. .

Yet, despite a longstanding local or regional focus, African affiliates have grown in power and influence.

Over the past two years, intelligence shared by UN member states has warned that AQIM has become a logistical hub for al-Qaida affiliates in Mali while finding ways to supply, and eventually to influence, other militant groups.

Al-Shabab’s rise has been even more pronounced, with one UN member state warning that it has gone from affiliate to benefactor, providing financial support to key al-Qaeda leaders.

A new caliphate?

At the same time, US military and intelligence officials warn that al-Qaeda’s Somali affiliate is becoming more ambitious, with a growing appetite for territory and to attack Western targets.

“I think it is likely that Africa will be home to the next emirate-like experiment by Al-Qaida…based on the prevalence of strong militant movements in Africa as well as weak and frustrated populations who are open to a range of alternatives,” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, counterterrorism analyst and CEO of threat analytics firm Valens Global, told VOA recently.

Yet Gartenstein-Ross, speaking before the death of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, said a stronger and more prominent African affiliate would not have to harbor al-Qaeda’s ruling core. .

“Al-Qaeda’s guidance system is not a traditional command and control system,” he said. “Its ideal tends to be centralization of strategy with decentralization of action.”

Zawahiri’s Legacy

Late Monday, a senior US administration official said Zawahiri’s death is a severe blow to al-Qaeda…and will degrade the group’s ability to operate, including against the American homeland.

But some analysts and former officials are wary.

“The loss of Zawahiri is not the end of al-Qaeda,” American Enterprise Institute fellow Katherine Zimmerman told VOA via text message.

“As uninspiring as his rants were to many, he successfully steered the organization past the death of its founder, Osama bin Laden, and the challenge from the Islamic State,” she said. declared. “He and senior al-Qaeda leaders have already planned his death, and many capable people are ready to take the lead.”

Other analysts argue that al-Qaeda, although decentralized and dependent on its affiliates, is still stronger than ever.

There are those, however, who disagree.

“There’s a case against him that says he wasn’t a very inspirational leader, he wasn’t a very dynamic leader,” the former Western counterterrorism official told VOA, showing caution.

“If you buy into the theory that Zawahiri was not an effective leader, then you have the possibility that a more inspirational leader will take over,” the official said.

USA voanews

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.