Un­der new leader, al Qaeda is­sues hit list

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ELI LAKE AND JERRY SEPER

Osama bin Laden’s long­time top deputy, Ay­man al-Zawahri, has as­sumed com­mand of al Qaeda, and a web­site associated with the ter­ror­ist group is call­ing on “lone wolf” agents to tar­get and kill 40 prom­i­nent Amer­i­cans at their homes in the U.S.

The list prompted the FBI and the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity to is­sue an in­tel­li­gence bul­letin to law en­force­ment agen­cies na­tion­wide and to no­tify the U.S. of­fi­cials, busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, think tank ex­ec­u­tives and de­fense con­trac­tors tar­geted on the “hit list.”

On June 16, ji­hadist web­sites de­clared al-Zawahri’s pro­mo­tion and promised to con­tinue at­tacks on the United States, Is­rael and other coun­tries that sup­port them, prompt­ing the top U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cer to vow that al-Zawahri will be cap­tured or killed like bin Laden.

“We seek with the aid of God to call for the re­li­gion of truth and in­cite our nation to fight[. . . ] by car­ry­ing out ji­had against the apos­tate in­vaders [. . . ] with their head be­ing cru­sader Amer­ica and its ser­vant Is­rael, and who­ever sup­ports them,” said the state­ment by al-Zawahri, as trans­lated by the Al-Jazeera news agency.

An Egyp­tian sur­geon, al-Zawahri bro­kered the June 2001 merger of al Qaeda and his own ter­ror group, Egyp­tian Is­lamic Ji­had, which was re­spon­si­ble for the as­sas­si­na­tion of Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent An­war Sa­dat in 1981. As the No. 2 leader of al Qaeda, al-Zawahri helped plan the Sept. 11 at­tacks and was re­spon­si­ble for the ter­ror­ist group’s con­tin­gency plans af­ter the at­tacks and for ar­rang­ing safe haven for the group’s lead­ers in Pak­istan and Iran.

In ad­di­tion, he is sus­pected of plan­ning the sui­cide bomb­ing of Egypt’s em­bassy in Islamabad, Pak­istan, in 1995 and of help­ing plan the at­tack that killed 67 for­eign tourists in Luxor, Egypt, in 1997.

“He and his or­ga­ni­za­tion are still threat­en­ing us, and as we did both seek to cap­ture and kill — and suc­ceed in killing — bin Laden, we cer­tainly will do the same thing with Zawahri,” said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The web­site An­sar al-Mu­jahideen re­cently posted the hit list, which in­cluded a video mes­sage by Adam Gadahn, al Qaeda’s chief spokesman, call­ing for ji­hadists — in­clud­ing lo­cal ji­hadist “lone wolfs” in the United States — to take up arms against Amer­i­cans, said an FBI of­fi­cial, who asked not to be named be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly on the mat­ter.

In his video mes­sage, Gadahn ex­plains how easy it is to buy a gun in the United States and por­trays Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, ac­cused of killing 13 peo­ple at Fort Hood in Texas in Novem­ber 2009, as a hero.

The hit list, first re­ported by NBC New York, in­cludes pho­tos of the sug­gested vic­tims. The FBI has de­clined to com­ment. The bu­reau’s no­ti­fi­ca­tion to law en­force­ment agen­cies con­tained the ad­vi­sory that the in­for­ma­tion was “as­pi­ra­tional,” adding that it did not know whether the threats would “progress be­yond these dis­cus­sion fo­rums.”

Al-Zawahri takes con­trol of al Qaeda as it mourns the loss of bin Laden, its in­spi­ra­tional leader and op­er­a­tional com­man­der, who was killed in a May 2 raid by Navy SEALs at his com­pound in Ab­bot­tabad, Pak­istan.

In re­cent years, al-Zawahri, 59, has emerged as the chief ide­o­logue and mouth­piece for al Qaeda, hav­ing made far more video and au­dio record­ings than bin Laden and of­fer­ing the

Bruce Hoff­man, di­rec­tor of the se­cu­rity stud­ies pro­gram at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, agreed that al-Zawahri lacks bin Laden’s charisma. But he said the new al Qaeda chief is also tougher than his pre­de­ces­sor in key ways. “He formed his first ter­ror­ist cell as a teenager, grad­u­ated to the ab­ject con­di­tions of Egyp­tian pris­ons and lost his wife and son in a U.S. airstrike in Novem­ber 2001,” Mr. Hoff­man said. “For him, this strug­gle is both more per­sonal and vis­ceral, as well as po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious. Zawahri mapped out al Qaeda’s strat­egy of sur­vival in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of 9/11 and will now have sole re­spon­si­bil­ity for im­ple­ment­ing it.”

group’s of­fi­cial view on de­vel­op­ments in the re­gion, in­clud­ing the war in So­ma­lia and the revo­lu­tion in Egypt.

But U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials long have re­garded al-Zawahri as a mi­cro­man­ager and sus- pected that he is dis­liked by many al Qaeda op­er­a­tives who pledged per­sonal loy­alty to bin Laden.

“The No. 2, Zawahri, is not charis­matic,” John Bren­nan, as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent for home­land se­cu­rity and coun­tert­er­ror­ism, said at a May 2 news con­fer­ence about the bin Laden raid. “He has not been — was not in­volved in the fight ear­lier on in Afghanistan, so — and I think he has a lot of de­trac­tors within the or­ga­ni­za­tion. And I think you’re go­ing to see them start eat­ing them­selves from within more and more.”

Al-Zawahri tried and failed to bring the Egyp­tian Is­lamic Group, which was re­spon­si­ble for the 1993 at­tack on the World Trade Cen­ter, into al Qaeda in 2001. Doc­u­ments cap­tured from ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions dis­close that lead­ers of the Egyp­tian Is­lamic Group re­jected al-Zawahri’s pleas for them to join bin Laden’s ranks.

“I am very pleased by al Qaeda’s choice to re­place bin Laden with Ay­man Zawahri,” said Mary Habeck, a for­mer spe­cial­ist on po­lit­i­cal Is­lam for the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

“Zawahri has nei­ther the strate­gic vi­sion nor the or­ga­ni­za­tional and peo­ple skills that bin Laden had. He has alien­ated many peo­ple in the ji­hadist move­ment, in­clud­ing a large num­ber of Egyp­tian rad­i­cals,” said Ms. Habeck, a pro­fes­sor of strate­gic stud­ies at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity’s School of Ad­vanced In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

Bruce Hoff­man, di­rec­tor of the se­cu­rity stud­ies pro­gram at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, agreed that al-Zawahri lacks bin Laden’s charisma. But he said the new al Qaeda chief is also tougher than his pre­de­ces­sor in key ways.

“He formed his first ter­ror­ist cell as a teenager, grad­u­ated to the ab­ject con­di­tions of Egyp­tian pris­ons and lost his wife and son in a U.S. airstrike in Novem­ber 2001,” Mr. Hoff­man said. “For him, this strug­gle is both more per­sonal and vis­ceral, as well as po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious. Zawahri mapped out al Qaeda’s strat­egy of sur­vival in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of 9/11 and will now have sole re­spon­si­bil­ity for im­ple­ment­ing it.”

The se­lec­tion of al-Zawahri could sug­gest a larger shift in the group’s lead­er­ship away from its Saudi fac­tion. Al Qaeda in some ways rep­re­sents the merger of Gulf Arab and Egyp­tian rad­i­cal Is­lam.

Bin Laden was a Saudi whose fam­ily came from Ye­men. Al-Zawahri is an Egyp­tian and a fol­lower of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyp­tian es­say­ist who de­vel­oped much of the po­lit­i­cal the­ory em­ployed to this day by al Qaeda.

Al-Zawahri

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