US President Joe Biden confirmed on Monday that al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the most wanted terrorists and the mastermind behind the 9/11 attack, was killed in a drone strike in Kabul. This now raises the fresh question of who will now take over the reins of al-Zawahiri. Obviously, the apparent heir has to be one of al-Zawahiri's most trusted men.
According to reports, the heir apparent to the al-Qaeda throne is seasoned military-trained operative Saif al-Adel, who oversaw Black Hawk Down operation and helped execute the 9/11 attack. Saif al-Adel was also one of the founding members of al-Qaeda and was one of the most trusted lieutenants of Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri.
Ayman al-Zawahiri's Successor
Zawahiri was an apparent contender to take Osama bin Laden's position after he was killed. In addition to serving as Laden's second-in-command, Zawahiri was also his trusted side and is believed to have planned numerous overseas attacks, including the 9/11 attack that helped put Al Qaeda on the map of the world.
The dreaded terrorist organization, which has a presence in more than seven countries and has multiple offshoots working in various regions, may find its succession plan to be more difficult following al-Zawahiri's untimely death.
If the latest UNSC report on Al Qaeda is anything to go by, there is no clear succession plan in place. However, one name that has been doing the rounds is Saif al-Adel. A former Egyptian army officer, al-Adel joined the pre-cursor terrorist organization Maktab al-Khidamat in the late 1980s and later became a founding member of al-Qaeda.
There, he met future associates Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, whose separate organization, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), he would shortly join.
One of the youngest al-Qaeda leaders, al-Adel is about 60 years old. Little else is known about him except that he is equally dreaded like his predecessors Laden and al-Zawahiri.
Saif al-Adel recently succeeded Al-Masri, the second-ranking Al-Qaeda figure who was killed by the United States in 2010. The Egyptian cornel is presently a top-ranking al-Qaeda member who is still at large and facing accusations from the US for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of the US embassy in Kenya.
He was the one who convinced Laden to appoint Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a bully. He might be the top candidate to succeed Zawahri given his lengthy tenure in Al-inner Qaeda's and senior circle.
In recent times, Saif al-Adel has been quite active in Iran and continues to communicate with terrorist groups in Syria via Telegram.
Notably, Saif al-Adel is also wanted by the FBI in relation to the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which were carried out by Al Qaeda.
Besides, Saif Al-Adel also oversaw the infamous "Black Hawk Down" operation in Mogadishu, Somalia, where 19 American soldiers were murdered and their bodies were paraded through the streets. He was only about 30 years old then.
Two British soldiers, three Turks, and a Frenchman were among the seven more victims when two helicopters were shot down in the east African ambush. After Laden was killed in 2011, Saif al-Adel assumed a greater strategic role inside the shrinking terror group.
He may be stuck in Iran and may have been for the past 19 years, which is the only thing keeping him from becoming the next al-Qaeda commander.
In 2003, Javad Zarif, the Iranian ambassador to the UN, steadfastly declined to confirm or deny that al-Adel was being held there. Al-Adel's ascent to the leadership of al-Qaeda is due to both his own abilities and the cruelty with which the United States assassinated his seniors.