Death of Ayman Al Zawahiri and the end of Al Qaeda ‘legacy’

With the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the primary question that looms over Al Qaeda is who will replace him as the next chief.
United States (US) President Joe Biden on 1 August announced that American forces had killed Al Qaeda Chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan. Zawahiri, a close confidant of Osama Bin Laden since the 1990s and a co-planner of the 9/11 terror attacks, was reportedly living in an upscale neighbourhood in a house owned by the Haqqani Network. The area where the targeted compound is situated was less than two kilometres from India’s embassy where a ‘technical team’ is now stationed.
Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 was a clarion call for the insurgency, announcing victory over the western forces after 20 years of battle, moving out of the Tora Bora mountains and into Kabul’s opulent areas. The Taliban’s victory was also the victory of other jihadist groups, such as Al Qaeda, which had supported the insurgency both militarily and financially. After the Taliban’s victory, Egypt-born al-Zawahiri, who had not been seen in public for some time and speculation was rife whether he was alive or not, re-appeared via propaganda videos. The timing of Zawahiri’s return to “public life” was not a mere coincidence, with Al Qaeda having a more than a three-decade-long relationship with the mujahideen, the Taliban and the Haqqanis.
Zawahiri from a public perception point of view was a shadow of what Bin Laden was. In fact, Zawahiri was known simply as ‘the man behind Bin Laden’. While many saw him as ineffective, analysts have highlighted that even though he was dour as a personality, Zawahiri was effective as the Al Qaeda chief and did not have to work too hard to make his own space in a post-Bin Laden Al Qaeda, keeping the group relatively intact, even as it lost momentum in front of the more Hollywood-like rise of the so-called Islamic State. The question in front of Al Qaeda now is who replaces Zawahiri. There are no known, charismatic leaders in the group that match either Bin Laden or Zawahiri’s public perception or recall value that they had created as founders of the moment throughout the 90s and leading up to 9/11.


By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter

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