The loss of Atiyah Abdul Rahman severely damages the Islamic terror organization’s central leadership, which many US officials say is now on the verge of defeat. Still, other officials say that in the short term the death of Rahman will not dramatically affect Al Qaeda cells spread out around the world.
Although Al Qaeda is structured so any of its members can be easily replaced, terrorism experts say that Mr. Rahman represented a unique asset to the organization and it is unlikely that a successor will share his qualifications and abilities.
“Rahman has been at the nerve center of Al Qaeda's global terrorist operations,” said Noman Benotman, a former Libyan jihadist who knew Rahman and other Al Qaeda leaders in an interview with CNN earlier this week. “He has become their CEO, the only person that Al Qaeda cannot afford to lose.”
Who was Rahman?
Rahman became the second in command shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden. In the years leading up to bin Laden’s death, Rahman managed to become one of the Al Qaeda leader’s most trusted deputies. He first joined forces with bin Laden in Afghanistan during the Soviet War in the 1980s, reports Bloomberg.
Unlike many in Al Qaeda, the Wall Street Journal reports that Rahman was unique because he possessed both theological training and operational military experience. As a result, he could both run operations and issue fatwas interpreting Islamic law, something not even Mr. Zawahiri is qualified to do.
“In terms of theology, it's very dry right now for Al Qaeda," said Omar Ashour, a professor of Middle East Studies at Exeter University in an article by the Wall Street Journal. “This was one of the few who gathered both tactics: Being an experienced actvist and a theologian at the same time."
Afghans call for greater focus on Pakistan
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan there is increasing frustration that although the US invaded and continues to keep nearly 100,000 troops here in interest of stamping out Al Qaeda, yet another terror leader was found in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai has made repeated calls for the US to turn its attention to Pakistan to address the threat of terrorism.
“After Osama and a lot of other Al Qaeda leaders were killed [in Pakistan], still America is here in Afghanistan,” said Saleh Mohammed Saleh, a member of the Afghan parliament from Kunar in an interview with the Monitor. “This makes the Afghans not trust anyone and be suspicious of the activities of America.”
Recent US victories against Al Qaeda
Coming closely on the heals of bin Laden’s death, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says that victory of Al Qaeda could be within reach if American forces can continue to keep pressure on the organization’s leadership.
Aside from bin Laden, this summer alone Al Qaeda also lost Ilyas Kashmiri, a senior Al Qaeda leader who helped plan the 2008 Mumbai attack and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the senior operative in East Africa who planned the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanazania.
“Now is the moment, following what happened with bin Laden, to put maximum pressure on them,” said Panetta in an Associated Press article. “I do believe that if we continue this effort we can really cripple Al Qaida as a major threat.”
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