Al-Qaida's Next Leader: After Bin Laden, Who? Al-Qaida's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, could take charge of the organization he helped create. But there are other rising stars: Saif al-Adel, a former colonel in the Egyptian special forces; Libyan Abu Yahya al-Libi; and U.S.-born radical Internet imam Anwar al-Awlaki.
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Al-Qaida's Next Leader: After Bin Laden, Who?

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Al-Qaida's Next Leader: After Bin Laden, Who?

Al-Qaida's Next Leader: After Bin Laden, Who?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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After their moment of celebration, national security officials have to worry about the extremists who remain at large. They include the man positioned to lead al-Qaida next a man without bin Laden's fame, but with a long resume of terrorism. Thirty years ago, he was part of a violent political movement in Egypt. He went to jail for helping to plot the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Analysts say that today he has all the tools he needs to ensure that al-Qaida continues.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports on bin Laden's deputy and al-Qaida's future.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: The last time Ayman al-Zawahiri was on center stage was almost 30 years ago. That's when he was in a cage at the back of an Egyptian courtroom.

Mr. AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI: Now we want to speak to the whole world. Who are we? We are Muslims. We are Muslims.

TEMPLE-RASTON: He was shouting about the torture he and other prisoners suffered at the hand of Egyptian jailers.

Mr. ZAWAHIRI: (Unintelligible)

TEMPLE-RASTON: Zawahiri's prison time in Egypt not only set him against the regime there, but marked the beginning of his lifelong hatred of the United States. He eventually joined forces with bin Laden. So at some level Zawahiri's about to take charge of an organization he helped create in the first place.

Mr. BRUCE HOFFMAN (Center for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown University): I'm Bruce Hoffman. I'm the director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Hoffman says Zawahiri could emerge as an even stronger leader than bin Laden.

Mr. HOFFMAN: Unlike bin Laden, he had the street cred of having been a dyed-in-the-wool terrorist from the time that he was a teenager. Yes, he's not as telegenic as bin Laden. He lacks bin Laden's charisma. He doesn't have the same mellifluous voice, but he's a very, very powerful figure within the movement.

TEMPLE-RASTON: But he's not the only one.

Mr. RICK "OZZIE" NELSON (Center for Strategic and International Studies): But it's important to remember that bin Laden's vision was always for there to be 1,000 bin Ladens, not just one Osama bin Laden.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Rick "Ozzie" Nelson from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr. NELSON: So there's an opportunity here for many individuals inside the organization to step forward and carry forth the al-Qaida narrative.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Bin Laden talked about creating a base for a broader Islamist movement. And before he died, he put a handful of rising stars in place. Here are three of them.

First, Saif al-Adel. He's believed to be a member of al-Qaida's military committee. He's a former colonel in the Egyptian special forces and he spent nine years under house arrest in Iran, before late last year he returned to Pakistan to fight with al-Qaida.

Again, Rick Nelson.

Mr. NELSON: He's a seasoned operator, he has experience, he has the reputation, the bona fides with inside the organization. He's been with al-Qaida for many years and, again, that's what's going to be important and critical to replace or to at least minimize the impact of losing bin Laden.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And then there's this man...

Mr. ABU YAHYA AL-LIBI: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Abu Yahya al-Libi. He's speaking in an Internet video posted two months ago. He's calling for young men to go and join the fight in Libya.

Al-Libi is a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, so he could provide al-Qaida with not just with operational experience, but an entree into Libya.

And there's one more rising star.

Mr. ANWAR AL-AWLAKI: The expansion of the Islamic empire was done by force. There's no question about that.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's the radical Internet imam Anwar al-Awlaki. He's the U.S.-born cleric linked to the Christmas Day bombing two years ago. He's a member of al-Qaida's arm in Yemen.

Bin Laden left behind a decentralized organization. Bruce Hoffman says that's going to complicate efforts to fight it.

Mr. HOFFMAN: The biggest challenge we're going to have in the aftermath of this is the diversity and multiplicity of the threats that we're going to have to contend with, which is really rather different than as might have been the case eight or nine years ago had we killed bin Laden at Tora Bora in the White Mountains.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Meaning that even though bin Laden is dead, al-Qaida will likely survive.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: And here's a subtle reminder that the fight against extremism requires more than a single success, even a spectacular success like this one. On Monday, after we learned of bin Laden's death, world stock markets rose. So far today, they're drifting lower again. As the euphoria begins to fade, economic fundamentals kick in once again.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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