Al-Qaeda’s uncertain succession
The killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri is unlikely to change the “far enemy” strategy of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates -- attacking the U.S. and its Western allies, which it sees as the cause of all Middle East problems.
After U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011, al-Zawahiri played a crucial role in decentralising the group, which resulted in numerous Al-Qaeda franchises emerging.
These include Al Shabaab, which controls large areas of rural Somalia, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in West Africa -- in particular Mali -- and the Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).
“He accepted major new players in the Al-Qaeda network,” Hans-Jakob Schindler, director of the NGO Counter-Extremism Project and a former UN advisor, told Agency France Press.
Analysts say the most likely successors include Saif al-Adel, a former Egyptian special forces lieutenant-colonel and figure in the old guard of Al-Qaeda.
“Zawahiri was not involved in the day-to-day decision-making of the affiliates... but you need a figurehead with a certain prominence and seniority because all the heads of all the affiliates need to swear personal loyalty to him,” said Schindler. “So replacing him is going to be a challenge.”
Also running is Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi, a Moroccan-born national who heads the media arm Al Sahab and coordinates activities with Al-Qaeda’s regional affiliates in West Africa, the Caucasus and India. Al-Maghrebi is the son-in-law of al-Zawahiri.
Other potential leaders include Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi (also known as Yazid Mubarak), the leader of AQIM, and Ahmed Umar (also known as Ahmad Diriye), the leader of Al Shabaab since 2014.