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Terrorism & Security

Al Qaeda reportedly taps Saif al-Adel as successor, potentially signaling a rift

Al Qaeda senior leaders reportedly chose Egyptian militant Saif al-Adel as an interim successor to Osama bin Laden, instead of expected next-in-line Ayman al-Zawahiri.

By Correspondent / May 18, 2011



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Al Qaeda has chosen Egyptian Al Qaeda member Saif al-Adel as interim leader while it decides on a more permanent successor to Osama bin Laden, according to independent but unconfirmed reports. While Mr. Adel has long been a senior member of Al Qaeda, his appointment comes as a surprise to many. It may signal a rift in the organization, which many expected would now be led by Mr. bin Laden's longtime No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

CNN's Peter Bergen attributed his information to former Libyan militant Noman Benotman, who once had ties with Al Qaeda but is now an analyst with British think tank Quilliam Foundation. The Pakistani paper The News based its report on sources it said were in attendance at a recent Al Qaeda meeting when members voted on bin Laden's successor.

Mr. Zawahiri and Adel were both part of the Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad, which was responsible for the assassination of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Adel, like Zawahiri, is on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list, with rewards of up to $5 million and $25 million, respectively, being offered for information leading to their capture. Adel is wanted for involvement in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa, and is also believed to have been involved in Somalia and Afghanistan – where he fought the Soviets in the 1980s as well as US-led NATO troops beginning in 2001.

He reportedly fled to Iran early in the war, however, and only recently resurfaced with the publication of five letters that "directly [challenge] the claims to the al-Qa’ida legacy made by the more familiar faces of the post-9/11 al-Qa’ida organization – Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al-Libi in particular," reported Jihadica.com, the online clearinghouse of militant literature, in February.

According to Mr. Benotman, Adel was chosen as an interim leader because members have been clamoring for a formal successor to bin Laden but Al Qaeda is not ready to choose a permanent leader. Several leaders currently in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region made the decision, rather than the full shura council, because Al Qaeda was unable to convene the complete council.

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