WASHINGTON — U.S. counterterrorism officials all but welcomed the announcement Thursday that Ayman al-Zawahri would succeed Osama bin Laden as leader of al-Qaida, arguing that his deep flaws are likely to weaken the terrorist network.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said bin Laden "had a peculiar charisma that I think Zawahri does not have." He also said there was evidence that bin Laden had been more "operationally engaged" than Zawahri, and that Zawahri's Egyptian roots and focus limited his appeal to militants from other countries.
Independent specialists largely agree that Zawahri is not an inspiring model for young militants, noting his lack of combat experience, his history of ideological squabbles and his abrasive manner and pedantic speeches — including a recent six-part series of audio messages about Egypt that trailed well behind the events there.
"He's always been a divisive figure, going back to his years in Egypt," said Brian Fishman, an expert on al-Qaida at the New America Foundation in Washington. "He's just personally disliked by many in al-Qaida. His personality always gets in the way."
Some experts, as well as some militants who have worked with Zawahri, said he had tried to overcome his history and reach out to a broad group of Islamists in an attempt to expand al-Qaida's influence.
SYRIA: Syrian security forces fanned out through villages and towns in the northern province of Idlib on Thursday, randomly hauling in males over age 16 as the government worked to silence a center of antiregime protest. In the border region where thousands of Syrian civilians have fled to havens in Turkey, Turkish officials were preparing to send food, clean water, medicine and other aid to thousands more stranded on the Syrian side.
LIBYA: Renewed diplomatic efforts to halt Libya's civil war appeared to be gaining momentum Thursday as thunderous NATO airstrikes once again hammered Moammar Gadhafi's stronghold of Tripoli. Officials said they are open to international efforts that would bring an end to four months of fighting between forces loyal to the longtime leader and rebels who control the eastern third of the country along with pockets in the west. But they insist that Gadhafi will not bow to international pressure to push him aside.
EGYPT: Spanish authorities detained a close associate of ousted President Hosni Mubarak wanted for trial at home on charges of bribing Mubarak and his family and squandering public funds. The head of Egypt's Interpol said that authorities are preparing to bring Hussein Salem back to Egypt.