Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Zawahiri ‘to fill in Laden shoes’

South Asia at risk of al-Qaeda attacks
Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian surgeon considered the real mastermind of the global terror franchise, is now set to succeed Osama bin Laden as the world’s most wanted man.
Like his Saudi-born co-conspirator, Zawahiri has been hiding ever since the United States declared its war on terror after the September 11, 2001 attacks, reports AFP.
Meanwhile, an Internet outlet for official messages from al-Qaeda has been deleting posts of bin Laden’s death and pledged that the jihad, or holy war, will continue, US monitoring group SITE reported early yesterday.
It said the Shumukh al-Islam forum has been asking users to wait for confirmation of the death before making any more posts, but there was a heavy flow of messages offering prayers and vowing that jihad will continue.
Users also threatened the United States.
Unlike his late comrade, who President Barack Obama said was killed by US forces in Pakistan, Zawahiri is presumed still at large with organisational skills, cunning and intelligence said to eclipse that of bin Laden.
Reportedly last seen in October 2001 in eastern Afghanistan, close to the Pakistan border, he has released multiple videos from his hiding, calling for war on the West.
While bin Laden was seen as al-Qaeda’s inspiration, his deputy is believed to be the real brains that steered operations, including the September 11 attacks, and as a result arguably even more dangerous.
The former eye surgeon’s position as bin Laden’s main strategist and mentor earned the 59-year-old a $25 million bounty on his head.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s list of most wanted terrorists said he was also bin Laden’s personal doctor.
As bin Laden withdrew from the public eye after 2004, it was often up to Zawahiri — identifiable by a prominent lump on his forehead — to motivate the group’s followers with a series of hectoring video appearances, jabbing his finger and staring from behind heavy-rimmed glasses.
Zawahiri met bin Laden when thousands of Islamist fighters from around the world flooded into Afghanistan during the 1980s “jihad”, or holy war, against Soviet forces.
Zawahiri hails from a wealthy Egyptian family. His father was a reputed physician and one of his grandfathers a prayer leader at Cairo’s Al-Azhar institute, the highest authority for Sunni Muslims.
He became involved with Egypt’s radical Muslim community at a young age and was reportedly arrested as young as 15 for being a member of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab world’s oldest fundamentalist group.
Zawahiri was jailed for three years in Egypt for militancy and was implicated in the 1981 assassination of president Anwar Sadat and the massacre of foreign tourists at the city of Luxor in 1997.
Facing a death sentence, he left Egypt in the mid-1980s initially for Saudi Arabia, but soon he headed for Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar where the resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was based.
In the early 1990s Zawahiri is believed to have lived in Europe before linking up again with bin Laden in Sudan or Afghanistan.
He was arrested in 1996 in Russia after apparently trying to recruit jihadists for Chechnya.
In 1998 he was one of five signatories to bin Laden’s “fatwa” calling for attacks against US civilians and he began appearing regularly at the al-Qaeda leader’s side.
He is listed on the US government’s indictment for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and he was sentenced to death in absentia by an Egyptian court a year later.
Zawahiri went into hiding after US-led and Afghan Northern Alliance forces toppled the fundamentalist Taliban in late 2001. The Taliban hosted bin Laden and Zawahiri and refused to hand them over after 9/11.
US and Pakistani forces both hunted for Zawahiri and bin Laden in their presumed hiding place along the barren mountains dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In January 2006 Zawahiri escaped a US missile raid on a village in Pakistan’s remote tribal areas. Up to 18 others died, including four al-Qaeda operatives and several civilians.
FRANCHISE
Before Sunday’s raid, numerous senior figures in al-Qaeda had been killed amid a relentless bombing campaign by US drone aircraft in northwest Afghanistan.
“It’s a significant killing, especially because the trend has been so heavily against al-Qaeda in the last couple of years,” said Seth Jones, a former Pentagon official who advised special forces in Afghanistan.
But it does not mean that “plotting is not still going on,” said Jones, a senior fellow at Rand Corporation, a US think tank.
“None of this means that terrorism will end against the United States,” he said.
But the role of al-Qaeda’s headquarters in Pakistan may begin to recede, he added.
“The role of Pakistan as the central hub may decrease,” Jones said, with branches in Yemen or elsewhere operating “more autonomously.”
Al-Qaeda’s affiliates, including its outfit in Yemen, along with allied groups such as Laskha-e-Taiba and the Pakistani Taliban have emerged as growing threats and have been linked to recent failed plots against the United States.
Al-Qaeda enjoyed more recruits after 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq, but Bin Laden’s successors will be anxious to stage an attack to rally extremist sympathizers and counter any perception of weakness, Jones said.
“With a blow like this, it will cause them to desperately search for efforts to boost their recruitment base. One of the ways is to stage an attack,” said Jones.
Author Peter Bergen, who has written and reported extensively about Bin Laden, said Al-Qaeda would be hard-pressed to replace him with someone of sufficient influence.
“The big question is whether or not he will end up being the martyr he desired to be,” Bergen said in an interview on CNN.
“Killing bin Laden is the end of the war on terror. There is no one to replace him in al-Qaeda.”
SOUTH ASIA RISK
Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are also particularly at risk from more organised attacks, says BBC.
In the former, the al-Qaeda influence among dedicated jihadis like the Haqqani group is still strong.
Pakistan is also extremely vulnerable to attack. Despite a constant spate of denials from the Pakistani authorities – which have now been proven wrong – al-Qaeda recently had its base in Pakistan.
Al-Qaeda and its affiliated Pakistani groups will be determined to launch a bombing campaign in Pakistan in memory of Bin Laden. This will heighten tensions in a country that is already beset with power shortages and an economic crisis.
Finally al-Qaeda and its allies may find this the right moment to create major divisions between India and Pakistan by launching another Mumbai-style attack on Indian territory.
This would aim to take the heat off the hunt for al-Qaeda members in Pakistan.
The Middle East also remains a big vacuum for al-Qaeda because of the ongoing Arab revolt.
It is still a prime target for al-Qaeda as it seeks to gain influence and clout among the new generation of leaders who have emerged in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and the Gulf states. But this task will be much more difficult after Bin Laden’s death.
Clearly Bin Laden’s death will give intelligence agencies around the world many clues and leads to catch other leaders, but al-Qaeda will not disappear overnight.

 

Courtesy of Agencies/The Daily Star

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