Dr Alia Brahimi is a Research Fellow at LSE Global Governance and an Al-Qaeda expert. As Ayman al-Zawahiri is confirmed as Osama Bin Laden’s successor, Dr Brahimi argues that Al-Qaeda Central could soon become redundant.
We now know the new man at the helm of Al-Qaeda. As expected, it is Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor who has been a jihadist since the sixties.
He has been the brains behind many of Al-Qaeda’s most brutal attacks including the 1998 US Embassy bombings in East Africa and the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York.
He has a mammoth task ahead as he takes charge of an organisation in “strategic and ideologic disarray”, according to LSE’s Dr Alia Brahimi.
“The globalisation of its authority is Al-Qaeda’s strength because it meant it was able to survive post 9/11 through various affiliated groups around the world,” Dr Brahimi stated.
“However, that globalisation of its authority has also been a fundamental weakness and a source of intense vulnerability. That is because Al-Qaeda Central has been unable to control its more radical offshoots and as a result Al-Qaeda’s jihad has been directed off course.
“Instead of hitting legitimate targets in the West, its victims are the Muslims whom they should be protecting.”
It will be al-Zawahiri’s job to get Al-Qaeda back on track and there are questions about whether he is the ideal man to do so.
“His main weakness is his lack of charisma, though he is a highly intelligent man. The fact that he is from Egypt will limit his appeal. Egypt is not the centre of the Islamic world and Gulf Arabs, in particular, may find it hard to relate to him.”
Even though the Arab Spring has all but passed Al-Qaeda by, it may yet give al-Zawahiri an opportunity to stamp his authority in the early days of his leadership given his contacts and access to networks in Egypt and North Africa.
However, Dr Brahimi is sceptical that he will be able to do so.
“Al-Qaeda seem to miss every chance made available to them. For example, they squandered the enormous opportunity presented by the US-led invasion of Iraq, which was widely viewed as illegitimate.
“As a vanguard group supposed to be protecting Muslims, this was their moment to step up. They didn’t and their story in Iraq is that of shameful and unrelenting internecine bloodshed.
“Ultimately, Al-Qaeda’s most effective manifestation will revolve around its faction in Yemen, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, where they are pioneering the notion of the individual jihad.
“This is the idea that individual Muslims in the West can embody the jihad without prior training or consultation with Al-Qaeda experts.
“We are talking about lone wolf attacks where western Muslims plan and launch bombings or even stabbings or shootings in the Western heartland.
“One example of this self-radicalisation is the stabbing of the British MP, Stephen Timms by one of his constituents Roshonara Choudhry.
“She hadn’t travelled to Yemen or Pakistan for training and her intentions were undetectable. They’re hoping for more attacks along this model, but on a bigger scale. We could be entering into a new phase for Al-Qaeda.”
One thing is for sure, al-Zawahiri will be determined to prove his worth as the world’s most wanted man with a US$25 million bounty on his head.