Al-Qaeda has named a new leader. Former number two and right hand man to Osama bin
Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri was named the new chief of al-Qaeda in a statement released online by the organization.
Al-Zawahiri has long been seen as a threat. He has appeared in many videos alongside bin Laden, released countless statements condemning the West, and is currently at the top of the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list.
An Egyptian-born extremist often considered the mastermind of the group, al-Zawahiri is responsible for fostering the decentralized, cellular nature of the organization and encouraging suicide bombings as a modus operandi. The 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa and the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole are believed to have been organized by him.
Al-Qaeda’s move to select a new leader comes in the wake of a slow decline in power and relevance. The already decentralized organization has suffered fragmentation and infighting since they were expelled from Afghanistan after the United States drove out the sympathetic Taliban government in 2001. Recently the group has lost influence in the region, as the Arab uprisings across the Middle-East have marginalized the group.
Many believe that al-Zawahiri will orchestrate attacks on westerners as soon as possible in order to seek revenge for the death of bin Laden, secure his new leadership position, and bring al-Qaeda back into the international spotlight.
This transition was fully expected by federal officials; however, opinion is divided as to whether this change is important. Some claim that al-Zawahiri’s resolve, desire to prove himself, and tactical knowledge make him a significant threat, while others claim that al-Qaeda is still too weak and al-Zawahiri lacks the presence and leadership to carry out a large scale attack.
Either way, Westerners should keep an eye out for suspicious activity, exercise caution when traveling abroad, and maintain a state of preparedness.
Marlia Fontaine-Weisse is the Content Manager for Preparis.