Most Prominent Candidates to Succeed to Bin Laden

In the wake of the American announcement about the killing of the leader of al-Qaeda Usāmah bin Lādin, and in the midst of American joy, US intelligence was keen to remind Americans that Bin Lādin’s killing does not mean that the ideology of al-Qaeda has been killed, anticipating the continuation of al-Qaeda violence. In reality, this American concern is based on the idea that it is not possible to restrict al-Qaeda to just the person of Bin Lādin and that the ideology especially in regards to armed jihad is widespread and has been embraced by many around the world within them having any official membership link with the original al-Qaeda. This is something which is correct, for the principle of armed change which this organisation embraces and with which challenges Arab and Islamic governments, and which then turned into a fight against the “Crusader” West, in agreement with the literature of the movement, will not end with Bin Lādin’s death and his family and the families of those left. Rather it will continue as an ideology just as Bin Lādin’s successors in the organisation will continue in the same role especially given the fact that his assistant Ayman adh-Dhawāhirī emerged as the de facto director of the organisation during more recent times. There are also other figureheads who have ideological prominence in the directorship of the organisation in Yemen, Libya, the Gulf and in Africa. With this, it is important to note here the important reality which is represented in the success of peaceful popular revolutions within a number of Arab countries under the banner of “the people want a change of system”. These revolutions have significantly weakened al-Qaeda ideology which is based on armed change, fighting governments and increasing the number of victims. This is with the exception of what has been connected to resisting occupying forces as is the case with ’Irāq, Afghānistān and elsewhere. The peaceful revolutions within the Arab countries weakened al-Qaeda ideology before the American killing of Bin Lādin. Even though the Americans consider their killing of him to be that which weakened the organisation’s ideology, the development of these revolutions is very important and has led to the development of al-Qaeda ideology itself.

There were those who anticipated Bin Lādin’s killing in this way to lead to an intensification of Bin Lādin’s successors and them being more severe against American and Western interests around the world. Al-Qaeda’s ideology of jihad and armed change has not died rather it has remained widespread within a number of countries and is no longer expressed in one person. Most of the bombings which have taken place in the West and East have been carried out by those who embraced the ideology of armed jihad which Bin Lādin and adh-Dhawāhirī made prominent. The ideology will not die after the death of its founders and this is what President Obama and senior US intelligence officials have themselves admitted following the announcement of Bin Lādin’s death. This was also noted by Jarret Brachman, professor of security studies at North Dakota State University and author of the book Global Jihad, in a study published by the American journal Foreign Policy in 2009. He noted that the al-Qaeda organisation is no longer a terrorist group as it was rather it has become a global terrorist movement that is trying to lead an ideological movement to reshape Islām from within in a powerful and friendly manner. Brachman also stated that Abū Yahyā al-Lībī is playing a role in this, and he is nominated as a successor to Bin Lādin.

Dhawāhirī is the Most Prominent Successor

Ayman adh-Dhawāhirī, an Egyptian eye surgeon, who helped to form Islamic Jihad of Egypt and who allied with Bin Lādin is the most likely nominee to succeed Bin Lādin as the leader of al-Qaeda. He was the right-hand man to Bin Lādin and the ideological strategist for al-Qaeda, indeed it is believed that he was the one who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks and he is the second most wanted person in the list of 22 suspects for the attacks as announced by the American government in 2001. Some analysts say that Dr adh-Dhawāhirī has been in control of al-Qaeda finances since the end of the American war against Afghanistan. For this reason, adh-Dhawāhirī was named in a list of individuals against whom financial sanctions have been placed against by Europe against the Taliban and also has identified by the US Treasury.

Ayman adh-Dhawāhirī was born in 1951 in Egypt to a middle class family of doctors and scholars. The grandfather of Ayman adh-Dhawāhirī, Rabī’ adh-Dhawāhirī, was an Imām and Shaykh of al-Azhar in Cairo. Adh-Dhawāhirī was a prominent member of Islamic groups in Egypt and was even arrested at the age of 15 for being a member of Islamic groups. He graduated from the Medical College of al-Azhar University in 1974 and obtained a Masters degree in surgery 4 years later. His father, who died in 1995, was a professor of pharmacy in the same university. Adh-Dhawāhirī was tried with a number of other Islamists for participating in the assassination of the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981. He was sentenced to three years for possessing weapons without a license and after his release he went to Saudi Arabia and then form there went to Peshawar and from there to Afghanistan where he established a branch of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group. Meanwhile, Egypt sentenced him to death in absentia for his role in the Islamic Jihad group.

Dhawāhirī emerged in a video next to Bin Lādin wherein he threatened the US over its imprisonment of Shaykh ’Umar ’AbdurRahmān for his alleged role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. In 1998 Dhawāhirī was one of the five signatories to Bin Lādin’s famous fatwa calling for attacks on US civilians. Muntasir az-Zayyāt, the lawyer who defended Islamist extremists in Egyptian courts, and who also spent three imprisoned with Dhawāhirī and others over the Sadat assassination, stated: “Dhawāhirī is the brains, planner, strategist and thinker of the concept of starting an Islamic Front.”

Anwar Awlaki

The second most likely candidate to succeed Bin Lādin or to be Ayman adh-Dhawāhiree’s right-hand man, in the event of Dhawāhiree himself being the main man, is the Yemeni and Islamic Preacher Anwar al-Awlaki who had connections with two of the 9/11 attackers and the Fort Hood attacker. Anwar al-Awlaki was born on 21 April 1971 to Yemeni parents in New Mexico in America. The Fox news channel, which is run by right-wing conservatives consider him to be a major threat. According to Evan Kohlmann, an independent terrorism consultant, al-Awlaki is “the intelligent face of al-Qaeda and today is a prominent member in the organisation.”

For the first six years of his life al-Awlaki remained in the US, where he was raised with an American childhood. When his father returned to Yemen in 1977 he returned and went back to the US and attended George Washington University in Washington D.C. At this time he became an Imām for the students, aged 23, which allowed him to obtain a free education. After a short time he became an Imām at Masjid Ribāt in San Diego, California. During this period, circa 2000, he came to know of Khālid al-Midhār and Nawwāf al-Hazamī, two of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. Based on the official investigation report for the attacks, the two men viewed al-Awlaki as a religious role-model and were closely linked to him.

Despite the fact that al-Awlaki is not well-versed in the Islamic Sharee’ah he is intelligent and an eloquent English speaker who is well read in regards to the “kuffār” heritage. Furthermore, he teaches his students who to implement Islamic jihad in the West, he is an excellent translator. He previously wrote on one website in 2009: “Western intelligence agencies translate Jihadi literature into English and spend much in this regard. Unfortunately, they do not want to share these translations with us.” For this reason he published a book on the internet regarding “44 Ways to Support Jihad” which has enjoyed a Facebook audience for a number of years now. His khutbahs are available on DVD and internet.

It is believed that his audience included the 7/7 London bombers which resulted in 52 people losing their lives and 700 people injured during multiple attacks on the London Underground system. His books and sermons were discovered during searches at the homes of the London bombers. According to the Daily Telegraph, the British terrorist Muhammad [Husayn] Hameed who planned a second attack on the London Underground was a follower of Anwar al-Awlaki. But the attack failed as the bomb did not detonate. Awlaki had email correspondence with the American military psychologist Nidal Hasan who shot 13 people at the Fort Hood military base in Texas. A few weeks after this Awlaki met AbdulMutallab in Shabwa Province who intended to blow up a plane bound for Detroit. Al-Awlaki himself is form one of the most important tribes in Yemen and his father Nāsir was the Agriculture Minister during the time of President Ali ’Abdullāh Sālih, who ruled Yemen for some 31 years. Anwar’s son studied at Īmān University in Sanā’, which has a bad reputation in the West, which is a university founded by AbdulMajeed az-Zindānī, known as “the red Shaykh”. Zindānī fought in Afghānistān alongside Bin Lādin in the 1980s.

Abū Yahyā al-Lībī

The third individual who could be nominated to succeed the leadership of al-Qaeda is Shaykh Abū Yahyā al-Lībī the head of al-Qaeda’s Judiciary Committee and the most likely successor to Bin Lādin. According to a study by the journal Foreign Policy: “a young and intelligent personality who is media friendly yet ideological very extreme in justifying savage terrorist operations based on religious rulings.” Abū Yahyā al-Lībī was born in Libya and his real name is Muhammad Hasan Qā’id, he is also well-known by the name Yūnus as-Sahrawī and he was a bright young man who studied chemistry at the University of Sebha.

In the 1980s amd 1990s he left his homeland and headed for Afghanistan where he remained in Logar. During this time he joined some Libyan Islamic combat groups and his older brother was the head of one of such groups which was determined to overthrown Mu’ammar Gaddafi. Abū Yahyā al-Lībī assumed a senior position with al-Qaeda wherein he hold the role of one distinct religious management and counter propaganda against its enemies and providing information about attacks in a way which was not possessed by either Bin Lādin or Ayman adh-Dhawāhirī. As a result, American sources nominate him, in the event of the deaths of Bin Ladin or Ayman adh-Dhawāhirī, as one to assume the reins of leadership of al-Qaeda. At such a point al-Qaeda would be an even more fierce enemy and stoker of fear, according to American anticipations. The importance of al-Qaeda according to Abū Yahyā al-Lībī, as claimed by Jarret Brachman, is not to destabilize Arab governments and expel American forces from the Middle east, rather it is to stoke an ideological and religious revolution. Brachman states that Aboo Yahyā al-Lībī neither attempts to make Muslims admire al-Qaeda as Usāmah bin Lādin did, nor does he make the crusaders and Zionists be fearful of al-Qaeda as Ayman adh-Dhawāhirī did. However, he wishes to effect change and revive Islam from within so that it si strong and loved.” Brachman views that the ignorance of US policy makers towards Abū Yahyā and other young al-Qaeda leaders as a major mistake which reflects the US government’s ignorance of the type of war it is facing. For the conflict is one of ideology and the US governmental agencies do not adequately study what al-Qaeda publish and distribute. This is because the war, a lack of resources and staff preoccupies it from doing that effectively. He also emphasised the necessity of translating the studying the pronouncements [of al-Qaeda] which provide insights into the weaknesses and strengths of al-Qaeda.

Abī Yahyā al-Lībī’s voice is listened to and famous among the Libyan Islamic extremist armed groups. Between 2001-2002 he was the head of the Taliban website in Karachi known as “the Islamic Emirate”. He was given this post due to the important position he has in recognising the influence of new media on the youth. He was arrested by the ISI on 28 May 2002 and then transferred to Bagram Prison where he was in the custody of US captors. In an interview in June 2006 with the al-Qaeda propaganda website “Sahab” he stated that he found American troops to be cowards suffering from a number of creedal, ethical and behavioural problems. He spent his time at the prison studying the security measures used within the prison.

Abū Zubaydah

Of the possible successors of al-Qaeda leadership is the Palestinian Abū Zubaydah who is believed by US intelligence to become the military commander of the organisation after the killing of Muhammad ’Ārif (Abū Hafs al-Misrī). Not much is known about him and even his actual age and place of birth is unknown and some documents state that he was born in Saudi Arabia. US sources claim that he is from Gaza and 39 years of age and that his real name is Zaynul-’Ābideen Muhammad Husayn. The US sources also claim that Abū Zubaydah worked as an international envoy for the al-Qaeda network and that he visited a number of countries travelling with fraudulent identities and passports due to his propensity for disguises. According to secret sources Abū Zubaydah has used around 37 identities such as “Usāmah as-Sweydī” and hold forged passports from Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and possibly Morocco. He travels disguised as a sales representative or under various other disguises and has at times travelled to visit Bosnia and some African states in which al-Qaeda are active, such as Sudan and Somalia.