Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Meet bin Laden's likely successor

In an undated photo, Osama bin Laden, right, listens as his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, speaks. He is believed to be hiding in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.


In an undated photo, Osama bin Laden, right, listens as his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, speaks. He is believed to be hiding in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

What effect Osama Bin Laden's death will have on al-Qaida's operations is uncertain.

Retired CIA veteran Paul Pillar, who served as the agency's national intelligence officer for the Middle East and South Asia from 2000 to 2004, said that al-Qaida has been widely decentralized, spreading to Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and other organizations, and that bin Laden's death would have little impact on terrorist operations.

"In terms of operational control and direction, most of the change that matters has already taken place," he said. Bin Laden's role "for some time has been more as a symbol and a source of ideology than an instigator of operations. That role will continue dead as well as alive."

Pillar said his demise would "have far more significance in the way that we in the United States and the West react to it than how violent Islamists will be going about their business."

Bin Laden's death means that he will likely be replaced at the helm of al-Qaida by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian surgeon who has long served as his chief deputy. Although he has also been in hiding over the last decade, Zawahiri, 59, has been the most visible face and voice of al-Qaida, issuing even more audio and video propaganda statements than bin Laden.

Zawahiri, however, is considered a polarizing figure within the top circles of al-Qaida and has long antagonized Islamic radicals from other factions. U.S. officials predicted he would have a much tougher time preserving unity within al-Qaida and attracting fresh followers.

Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and professor of security studies at Georgetown University, said bin Laden had made preparations for his death ever since 1998 and that al-Qaida almost certainly had a succession plan in place.

In speeches and statements over the past decade, bin Laden has repeatedly said he looked forward to becoming a martyr for al-Qaida's cause; some analysts said he probably did not expect to live as long as he did.

"His intention was that with his death, his message would carry greater resonance than in the last years of his life," Hoffman said. "Zawahiri becomes the obvious heir apparent, and I think he's been running the organization in any event," he said. "The question is, how effective will Zawahiri be in filling bin Laden's shoes?"

Meet bin Laden's likely successor 05/02/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 2, 2011 1:37am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Muslims thankful for support after rant, deadly attack


    Associated Press

    PORTLAND, Ore. — Muslims in Portland, Ore., thanked the community for its support and said they were raising money for the families of two men who were killed when they came to the defense of two young women — one wearing a hijab — who were targeted by an anti-Muslim rant.

    Jeremy Christian is accused of killing 2 men who stepped in as he berated two women.
  2. Following Trump's trip, Merkel says Europe can't rely on U.S. anymore


    LONDON — German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday declared a new chapter in U.S.-European relations after contentious meetings with President Donald Trump last week, saying that Europe "really must take our fate into our own hands."

    G7 leaders, from left, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junker, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Donald Trump, and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, pose for a family photo at the Ancient Greek Theater of Taormina, Friday, May 26, 2017, in Taormina, Italy. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) ITAV149
  3. Seven children, 1 to 10, seriously injured when driver loses control on I-4


    TAMPA — Seven young passengers 1 to 10 years old were seriously injured when the driver of a Chevrolet Suburban lost control, causing the vehicle to flip and hit a fence on Interstate 4 just east of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of May 29-June 4


    Memorial Day: Among the free events paying tribute to fallen soldiers today is the Bay Pines VA Memorial Day Ceremony in St. Petersburg, with speakers including Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Charlie Christ, musical performances, a rifle salute and taps. (727) 319-6479 . The Florida National Cemetery …

    Young blonde boy carrying an American Flag over a wooden Bridge.
  5. Sheriff's Office: Drug dispute preceded fatal Largo motel shooting


    LARGO — A fight over drugs preceded the shooting death of a 47-year-old man Thursday night at a Largo motel, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said Sunday.

    Angel E. Martinez, 24, is accused in the shooting death of Ricky Garland, 47, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. [Pinellas County Jail]