Dr. Evil: Terrorism Alert Puts bin Laden’s Successor Back in the Spotlight

Ayman al-Zawahiri reasserts his relevance, with deadly intent.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Hamid Mir/Editor/Ausaf Newspaper for Daily Dawn / Reuters

Osama bin Laden sits with his adviser Ayman al-Zawahiri in November 2001

For the past the two years, Ayman al-Zawahiri had been lying low. When Navy SEALs paid a visit to Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011, and killed Osama bin Laden, they lethally promoted the Egyptian doctor, then bin Laden’s deputy, into the role of al-Qaeda’s new leader. Since then, government officials have fretted less about al-Zawahiri and the Pakistan-based remnants of bin Laden’s original team than about al-Qaeda’s emerging affiliates in the Middle East and North Africa, including the fearsome al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

But it was a message from al-Zawahiri to the leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch ordering attacks on unknown targets, possibly including the U.S. embassy in Yemen, that triggered alarms within the Obama Administration last week. The response to al-Zawahiri’s message suggests that, for all Obama’s boasts about decimating al-Qaeda’s “core” in Pakistan, Washington considers the group’s leadership there influential and dangerous. There are also signs that al-Zawahiri, 62, is looking to assert his own relevance and control over al-Qaeda’s loosely connected affiliate groups.

“It would make sense that Zawahiri thinks he needs greater connectivity with AQAP,” says Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department’s top counterterrorism official until last year. “If he’s going to revive the global al-Qaeda brand, he needs to show that these [affiliates] are not different bits that have blown apart, but are part of a unified whole.”

(MORE: Panic in Yemen: Terrorist Threat Shutters U.S. and U.K. Embassies)

Benjamin, now with the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College, says Washington’s degree of concern suggests something more than mere discussion of an attack on the U.S. embassy in Yemen’s capital of Sana‘a, something AQAP has threatened for years. “There has to be some kind of discussion about the need to create a more integrated network,” Benjamin says.

Indeed, a U.S. official told CNN that al-Zawahiri recently deputized AQAP’s Yemeni leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, to be al-Qaeda’s global No. 2 operative — possible evidence of an effort to expand the geographic reach of the group’s leadership. By contrast, al-Qaeda’s past two deputies were based in Pakistan, like most other core leaders, when they were killed by drone strikes in 2012 and 2011.

If al-Zawahiri is seeking to broaden al-Qaeda’s command structure, he may be compensating for his own limitations. An Egyptian radicalized by his imprisonment and torture after he tried to foment Islamic revolution there, al-Zawahiri has always lacked bin Laden’s warrior panache. Bin Laden was a reputed battlefield hero in the holy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Al-Zawahiri worked with the Red Crescent across the border in Pakistan, treating wounded mujahedin fighters with rudimentary medicine like the use of honey to sterilize wounds.

In 2011, TIME’s Tim McGirk quoted an ex-militant who called al-Zawahiri “sharp-tongued” and “arrogant,” and wrote that “[h]is scraggly beard, prayer callous on his forehead and thick glasses make him look more like an unpleasant and pious schoolmaster than a terrorist mastermind.” After al-Zawahiri assumed control of al-Qaeda in 2011, then Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested that he might be a less effective leader than bin Laden. The slain al-Qaeda leader, Gates said, had possessed “a peculiar charisma that I think Zawahiri does not have.”

(MORE: State Department Global Alert Shows ‘New Normal’ of Terrorism)

But if bin Laden was al-Qaeda’s international icon, al-Zawahiri is its intellectual heavyweight, the author of multiple books and manifestos explaining the group’s views and goals. “More than Osama bin Laden, he’s been important in writing and pushing out al-Qaeda’s ideology,” says Seth Jones, an al-Qaeda expert with the Rand Corp.

He can also be a sneering antagonist. Soon after Obama’s 2008 presidential election, al-Zawahiri released an audio message calling him a “house negro” who had betrayed his father’s Muslim faith, and goaded Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan, where he said stray dogs “have savored the taste of your soldiers’ flesh.” More recently, he has threatened to free the prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp and scolded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood for failing to implement Shari‘a when it held power in Cairo.

U.S. forces have doggedly hunted al-Zawahiri, who is assumed to be living somewhere in northern Pakistan. But despite the $25 million price on his head, he’s proved even more elusive than the man he replaced. Al-Zawahiri was the likely target of a 2006 drone strike on a madrasah in Pakistan’s northern Bajaur region, but since then intelligence on his whereabouts has been scant.

“He’s a survivor,” says Jones. “He’s out-survived Osama bin Laden.” That’s no small feat — and reason not to underestimate this doctor’s deadly orders.

MORE: Dr. al-Zawahiri, I Presume: The Hunt Begins for al-Qaeda’s New Boss

28 comments
PeterChao
PeterChao

One of our fellow readers describes drone attacks as killing many civilians along with targeted suspects.    And what about those invasions - of Afghanistan and Iraq - which have claimed the lives of about a million civilians so far, and the thousands and thousands of civilians slain in Pakistan as a result of U.S.invasion and hundreds of drone attacks, let alone over a million of those wounded and crippled in these three war-torn Islamic countries?    The invaders are primarily American and British troops and those from France, Germany, the Netherlands and some other nations.

The U.S. and the British governments do not want to end these wars because they can seize the oilfields and valuable mines in these victimized countries on the one hand, and consume lots and lots of weapons and arms on he other for their war-industrial complexes which pay them off generously along with many members of the U.S. House of Representatives.    They keep calling those Muslims who try to fight back "terrorists" while they are the most barbaric terrorists the world has ever seen.      

Please ask the NSA and the CIA: "How many people has Ayman al- Zawahiri has killed?"   

Should prestigious news media like the Time, CNN, BBC keep indoctrinating American and British public to follow their leaders slavishly to be the people of the most hated governments in the world, if not in world history?

But do not get me wrong, my fellow readers, I'm just a Christian who often do not agree with what those Muslims do.

PeterChao     

CecilieLarsen
CecilieLarsen

$60 AN hour! Seriously I do not grasp why additional individuals haven't tried this, I work 2 shifts, a pair of hours within the day and a pair of within the evening…And what's impressive is I'm engaging from home thus I purchase longer with my youngsters. Here is what I did...w­w­w.B­a­y­9­3.ℂ­o­m

JohnDahodi
JohnDahodi

IS IT JIHAD ON MUSLIM WORLD?

The way the Obama Security Departments have created panic, fear and wide spread extra ordinary alarm around the Muslim world raising unexplained and unfounded rumors, the Muslims in general and Arabs in particular feel that it is a hidden Jihad on Islam by the West. This particular terrorism warning and wide spread alarm and closing of Embassies and travel has crippled the much needed tourism in the Muslim and Arab world. Many prospective tourists have either changed their routes or travel plans, and the media has created silent hatred towards Arabs and Muslims and the worst, at the time the Muslim world wanted to celebrate their Christmas like Holidays after the month long fasting. Looks like, it was the worst gift to the Arab and Muslim community by Obama, unless he spells out clearly the threats and real reasons behind the wide spread and historical security alarm around the Arab world. JUST A PHONE CALL BETWEEN THE TWO THUGS CANNOT BE A REAL REASON TO CREATE THIS HAVOC.

StephenSwain
StephenSwain

I am reminded of King Henry II's frustrated remark: "Would no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"  In this case, he is merely a sort of Muslim cleric, but the sense of umbrage remains.  Pity the project manager at CIA or elsewhere you has promised, "Never you worry, sir, we shall find him."  Not to put too fine a point upon it, but the sooner they rid us of this turbulent cleric, the better.

cent-fan
cent-fan

[Indeed, a U.S. official told CNN that al-Zawahiri recently deputized AQAP’s Yemeni leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, to be al-Qaeda’s global No. 2 operative — possible evidence of an effort to expand the geographic reach of the group’s leadership.]

I don't think making a more defined command structure really works in their favor.  It's all about sending a check to the south Yemen branch so they can buy a few kilos of C4 and get a college student to blow themselves up in a market.  The more "generals" and control in the mix the more phone calls and the more logistics and the more drones buzzing their way over their heads.  Terrorism is all about a handful of nuttyz acting randomly... unless you can get a hold of an airliner or nuclear plant.  Getting T-shirts printed with their organization logo doesn't help them. 

SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

The war on terror may have failed like the war on drugs.   We just spread them out more.

littleredtop
littleredtop

Put this guy's lights out with a swarm of deadly drones and if that's too difficult just nuke the area and hope to get him.

FrankNolo
FrankNolo

Bin Laden and Zawahiri are not the leaders of Al-Qaeda.  They are just the PR wing of Al-Qaeda.  The leaders of Al-Qaeda have never been named in the media ever.  So these guys are just symbolic, but have no operational authority whatsoever.  They are just faces to hide the ones that wish to remain anonymous.

cryptomedia-dot-com

MrObvious
MrObvious

As funny as the Dr. Evil half pun might be, this is not an Austin Powers character. He's a demented religious fanatic.

destor23
destor23

More breathless purple "war forever" prose on a national security topic.  Can we drop the villain of the week reporting?

arvay
arvay

We are being treated  to an Orwellian doublethink in plan sight.

!It's the resurrection and re-energizing of Ayman al-Zawahiri -- recently declared impotent and hobbled by our terrific drone program -- and -- most dreadfully -- lacking charisma -- but now, folks -- ALSO a really bad Boogeyman who makes it clear why we need to surrender our civil liberties to the NSA.

But it gets better! (apologies to Billy Mays).

He's SUCH an expert, demonic threat -- that he holds teleconferences with other Boogeymen. Imagine that!! On a cellphone! Real spy-craft there (shudder, shudder).

You on board yet with the program, buckaroos?

Just to make sure, the free, independent, very, very democratic guys who run the sliver  of Yemen we like to think reports to us -- have stopped some terrorist bad stuff in its tracks.

Who the gods would destroy they first make mad. 

Or, more likely, stupid. 

ViableOp
ViableOp

Using drones to kill suspected terrorists is not working.  When innocent civilians are killed along with targeted individuals, anger against the United States builds and can well result in the ultimate creation of even more terrorists.  Despite the President's assurances that drone attacks are the way to go because they are "surgical", in fact, as this article shows, drones cause far higher rates of civilian casualties than conventional attacks:

http://viableopposition.blogspot.ca/2013/07/drones-and-civilians-deadly-combination.html

paulejb
paulejb

Al-Qaeda is feeling frisky and Barry 0 is on the run.

azmalhome
azmalhome

al-Qaeda’s not right, most of time they're killing innocent of people. that's absolutely wrong work according to the holy Quran. http://azmalhome.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/secret-of-holy-quran-through-humankind/

Quran 2:6-18 Indeed, those who disbelieve – it is all the same for them whether you warn them or do not warn them – they will not believe. God/Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil. And for them is a great punishment. And of the people are some who say, “We believe in Allah and the Last Day,” but they are not believers. They [think to] deceive Allah and those who believe, but they
deceive not except themselves and perceive [it] not. In their hearts is disease, so Allah has increased their disease more, and for them is a painful punishment because they [habitually] used to lie. And when it is said to them, “Do not cause corruption on the earth,” they say, “We are but reformers.” Unquestionably, it is they who are the corrupter, but they perceive [it] not. And when it is said to them, “Believe as the people have believed,” they say, “Should we believe as the foolish have believed?” Unquestionably, it is they who are the foolish, but they know [it] not. And when they meet those who believe, they say, “We believe”; but when they are alone with their evil ones, they say, “Indeed, we are with you; we were only mockers.” [But] Allah mocks them and prolongs them in their transgression [while] they wander blindly. Those are the ones who have purchased error [in exchange] for guidance, so their transaction has brought no profit, nor were they guided. Their example is that of one who kindled a fire, but when it illuminated what was around him, Allah took away their light and left them in darkness [so] they could not see. Deaf, dumb and blind – so they will not return [to the right path].

java32
java32

@PeterChao I agree what you wrote many of us does not know the big games played by big players.Medias are basically hijacked by these players in order to remain inline with their policies.

roknsteve
roknsteve

@PeterChao Since Pakistani military intelligence created Al Qaeda you should send your comments to them.

jmac
jmac

@SukeMadiq  Sorry you don't get your conventional war as al Qaeda spreads.   Oh, the good old days of Antietam, where Americans can dress up hundreds of years later and play soldier, beat the drum and wave a flag.    

paulejb
paulejb

@ViableOp 

How many "innocent" civilians are hanging around with terrorists and why are they doing it?

SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

@azmalhome 

"KIll all non'believers and their livestock"  Levitcus - Holy Bible

arvay
arvay

@azmalhome


from a far better poem


After a momentary silence spake 
Some Vessel of a more ungainly Make; 
"They sneer at me for leaning all awry: 
What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"

java32
java32

@roknsteve @PeterChao I think you are not aware of Al-Qaeda background you need to read about it before making any comment. 

arvay
arvay

@paulejb @ViableOp 


We aren't even sure if all the "terrorists" targeted are really terrorists.  But keep it up, you're helping al Qaeda immeasurably.