Successor of killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri remains unclear, says US intelligence official


Despite Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri being killed in a US drone strike in Kabul on July 31, his successor still remains unclear, according to a US intelligence official.

To a question on the Al Qaeda's 'centre of gravity' after Zawahiri's death, Christine Abizaid, Director of the US National Counterterrorism Centre on Tuesday said, according to Reuters: "The question for Al Qaeda, that it has not answered for itself, is who follows (Zawahiri)", in an event organised by the Washington Institute.

A key 9/11 plotter, Zawahiri was reported to be living in Pakistan till the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan, probably under the protection of the Pakistani intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), reported European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS).

Notably, Saif al-Adel, a mysterious, low-key former Egyptian special forces officer who is a high-ranking member of Al Qaeda, is seen by experts as the top contender. The US is offering a reward of up to USD 10 million for information leading to his arrest, reported Reuters.

Abizaid also addressed the threat landscape in the US and said the country faced an 'unpredictable' environment, adding that Americans must remain vigilant about overseas-based extremist organizations such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State.

"The online environment is where most of the radicalization is occurring," she said.

Her remarks echoed a recent assessment by the Department of Homeland Security, which said in November that the US threat environment will remain heightened in the coming months, with lone offenders and groups motivated by a range of ideologies posing a danger, reported Reuters.

Earlier in December 2022, Al Qaeda released an undated 35-minute video of its killed leader Al-Zawahiri. The group claimed that the recording was narrated by him.

Meanwhile, the prospect of Pakistani involvement in Zawahiri's targeting has emerged as a contentious issue, even if neither the US nor Pakistan has publicly acknowledged such a role.

EFSAS, quoting a report by the New York Times, said for many years it was believed that Zawahiri was hiding in the border area of Pakistan and it remains unclear why he returned to Afghanistan. Following the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, it is believed that Zawahiri's family returned to the safe house in Kabul.

Reports quoting top intelligence sources have also claimed that Zawahiri was being sheltered in Karachi and that sometime after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, he was moved to Kabul through the Chaman border by the Haqqani network.

Over the role of Pakistan in Zawahiri's killing, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Michael Rubin said he is convinced that Pakistan had a role in Zawahiri's killing.

He underlined, "Pakistan's economy is in danger, and the country is in danger of collapse.