Brutal new breed of contenders wait to take Bin Laden crown

The next generation of al-Qa'ida commanders will be considerably more brutal than Osama bin Laden, according to intelligence experts, including the man who once led the CIA's battle to capture the terror network's founder.

Senior al-Qa'ida leaders officially confirmed Bin Laden's death last week but their statement made no mention of who might succeed the 54-year-old Saudi. Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahiri, his long-time brother-in-arms and al-Qa'ida's official number two, is almost certain to oversee the immediate power vacuum caused.

Terrorism analysts say a string of younger successors keen to prove their military prowess with headline-grabbing violence will jostle for global recognition in the coming years. In an interview with The Independent, Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA's Bin Laden unit, said he believed the al-Qa'ida leader had deliberately taken a back seat in recent years to give space to younger ideologues.

"Zawahiri may take over in the short term but he's a pretty abrasive guy and he's always been at sixes and sevens with the Gulf Arabs," Scheuer said. "I tend to think that the next generation of commanders will be more educated, more able to use the tools of modernity and also more vicious. In three or four years we'll come to see Bin Laden as a more tolerant and less bloodthirsty man than the generation that succeeded him."

Speculation over who will now emerge as al-Qa'da's top lieutenants comes as the US desperately tries to seize the initiative following Bin Laden's death, with the first drone strikes in more than a year hitting Yemen last week.

Two names that are being cited by terrorism experts as examples of al-Qa'ida's new breed are Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan who escaped from US military custody in Afghanistan, and Nassir al-Wuhayshi, the head of al- Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula. Both men have exhibited much of the charisma that gave Bin Laden such a wide following, and each has experience of the front lines, unlike better-known English-speaking al-Qa'ida propagandists such as Anwar al-Awlaki and the Jewish-born American covert Adam Gadahn.

Al-Libi, who joined the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group before pledging allegiance to al-Qa'ida, is seen as a particular rising star. Since his daring escape from Bagram airbase in 2005 he has appeared in numerous videos produced by al-Sabah, the official media wing of al-Qa'ida. A charismatic poet, he has gained a wide following within global jihadist circles as director of the terror network's jurisprudence committee and has written extensive theological justifications for al-Qa'ida's tactics at a time when the terror network was being castigated by prominent theologians for its indiscriminate killings.

Al-Wuhayshi, who once served as Bin Laden's aide-de-camp, also engineered a 2006 break out of a prison in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, and has gone on to revive the fortunes of AQAP with an alliance between Saudi and Yemeni militants backed by ferocious tactics against opponents.

When al-Qa'ida finally released its eulogy to Bin Laden it specifically included a call for Pakistanis to rise up against their government. Reports this week in Karachi Islam, an Urdu paper with close ties to Pakistani militants, says a new leader has now been appointed to head up al-Qa'ida operations in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The job has reportedly been given to Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, an Uighur Muslim from China ,who is head of the Turkistan Islamic Party, the militant group that wants to create an Islamic state in Xinjiang, just across the Himalayas. Little is known about Shakoor other than that he took over from Abdul Haq Turkistani, after he was killed in a drone strike last year. If the reports are true, Shakoor will likely oversee the training of European recruits to al-Qa'ida who make it to the tribal areas.

Noman Benotman, a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who has since renounced violent Islamism and now works for the Quilliam think-tank, disagrees with Mr Scheuer's belief that militants like al-Libi or al-Wuhayshi have enough clout to take over quickly from Zawahiri. But he is convinced that the younger commanders will be even more violent than their predecessors.

"These guys feel like they need to prove themselves and create worldwide notoriety," he said. "And the only way they think they can do that is through military operations. They are a brutal group. But fortunately no one, not even al-Zawahiri, has the global reach and appeal of Bin Laden."

Terrorism watchers say Iraq could provide a grim indication of how the next generation of al-Qa'ida commanders may behave. Until US Special Forces tracked him down in the summer of 2006, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – al-Qa'ida's then commander in Iraq – had caused widespread devastation and revulsion, pioneering sectarian butchery on a level that horrified Iraqis and even earned him a stern public rebuke from al-Zawahiri.

Younger generation fighters like al-Libi and al-Wuhayshi, however, are less bothered about protecting al-Qa'ida from charges among fellow Muslims that they are overly brutal.

"Young, media savvy, ideologically extreme and masterful at justifying savage acts of terrorism with esoteric religious arguments, Abu Yahya offers the global al-Qa'ida movement everything the old guard cannot," explains Jarret Brachman, a terrorism analyst who is writing a book on likely successors to Bin Laden. "There is currently some reticence within al-Qa'ida's leadership about major violence– especially after Zarqawi in Iraq and in the wake of the Arab Spring. But the younger generations are much less ideologically averse to that sort of violence."

Many terror experts believe a quick strike against al-Zawahiri, coming soon after Bin Laden's demise, would be a body blowthat could truly cripple al-Qa'ida. "It would be disastrous for them," says Georgetown University's Bruce Hoffman, who has studied terrorist networks for the past 30 years. "Zawahiri has been a power player at all of al-Qa'ida's key strategic junctures. They would really find it hard to bounce back from that."

In the crosshairs...

Anwar al-Awlaki

Background: Born in New Mexico, Awlaki is a dual US and Yemeni citizen. He is said to have been directly in contact with three of the 9/11 hijackers, the Fort Hood gunman Nidal Malik Hasan and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underpants bomber.

Price on his head: The US government has tried to kill him, but has not yet offered a bounty.

Location: Yemen's south-east province of Shabwa.

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Background: Longtime deputy of Osama bin Laden, he is widely tipped to take over as leader ofal-Qa'ida. Born in Egypt, Zawahiri trained as a surgeon before becoming head of Islamic Jihad.

Price on his head: $25m. He is indicted in the US for the 1998 bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Location: Probably Pakistan, but likely to be on the move after Bin Laden's killing.

Abu Yahya al-Libi

Background: Charismatic Libyan Islamic scholar who has risen rapidly through the ranks. Dramatically escaped from the high-security military prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, in 2005.

Price on his head: $1m

Location: He is thought to be in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but the raid on Bin Laden's hide-out may provide more accurate intelligence.

Adam Gadahn

Background: An American, Gadahn, who was born Adam Pearlman, is one of al-Qa'ida's leading spokesmen, especially for the English-speaking world. Regarded as a key leader of As Sahab, al-Qa'ida's media arm.

Price on his head: $1m

Location: Probably Pakistan. Reports that he has already been killed have been denied.

Nassir al-Wuhayshi

Background: The Yemeni leader of al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula, he once served as Osama bin Laden's secretary. Escaped Iranian custody in 2005 and now heads lists of wanted terrorists in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Price on his head: No specific value, although as a key lieutenant of Bin Laden's, al-Wuhayshi would be a prized capture.

Location: Assumed to be in northern Yemen.

Ilyas Kashmiri

Background: Barely known among the US public, but Kashmiri, a Pakistani, has been wanted by the Americans for several years. A former Pakistani army commando, he is thought to be behind plans for 'Mumbai-style' attacks in Europe.

Price on his head: Nothing yet, but he is seen as a charismaticrising star within al-Qa'ida

Location: Probably Pakistan. It is unclear whether he still has contacts within the Pakistani army.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?