(Photo: Reuters/Hamid Mir)
Al Qaida have appointed Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri as its new head, in an delayed announcement that seemingly shows the terrorist organization as struggling to come to terms with the killing of its figurehead Osama bin Laden in May.
A jihadist website posted the short statement by al Qaida Thursday explaining that the long-time number two, al-Zawahiri, has been appointed after “consideration”.
Al-Zawahiri has often been described as the “operational brains” behind al Qaida, however, he is reported to be much less charismatic than his predecessor.
The massive delay in announcing his appointment has led to rumors that al Qaida is suffering deep divisions within its ranks, and indicates that al-Zawahiri was not the overwhelming choice.
A senior U.S. intelligence official recently commented about al-Zawahiri: “There are strong indications that he is not popular within certain circles of the group.”
Rumors are circulating that al-Zawahiri’s appointment came at a meeting between six to eight of al Qaida’s top commanders somewhere near the Pakistan and Afghanistan border.
Al-Zawahiri gave a warning last week saying that Osama bin Laden will continue to “terrify” the U.S. and its allies from beyond the grave.
Al-Zawahiri said, “The sheikh has departed, may God have mercy on him, to his God as a martyr and we must continue on his path of jihad to expel the invaders from the land of Muslims and to purify it from injustice.”
He added: “Today, and thanks be to God, America is not facing an individual or a group, but a rebelling nation, which has awoken from its sleep in a jihadist renaissance.”
Al-Zawahri comes from a family of upper middle-class Egyptian doctors and scholars. His father was a pharmacology professor at Cairo University’s medical school and his grandfather was the grand imam of Al-Azhar University.
Today’s announcement stated: “Hereby the General Command of the Qaida al-Jihad -- and after the end of the consultations -- we declare that Sheikh Dr. Abu Muhammad Ayman al-Zawahiri (may God bless him) will take over the responsibility of command of the group.”
Al-Zawahiri is one of the F.B.I.'s most wanted terrorists and was previously indicted for his alleged role in the August 7, 1998, bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya where 224 civilians were killed and 5,000 others wounded.
The F.B.I. is offering a $25 million reward for information leading to his capture, which was equal to the reward previously offered for bin Laden.
Al-Zawahiri is also alleged to have been a key architect of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. His wife and three daughters were reported killed in a bombing strike on the Afghan city of Kandahar in early December 2001.