Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda organization’s leader, has held a symbolic significance during his years of leadership, based on his historic role in the formation of armed violence actions in Afghanistan, transferring the movement from the randomness of a local direct Jihad (struggle) organization to the establishment of “The World’s Islamic Front” in 1998, which was a merge of the Egyptian “Jihad” organization and the volunteering militants who gathered under the “Jihadist Base” by Abdallah Azzam.
From then on, the first generation of militants who witnessed the events in Afghanistan has kept the name Al-Qaeda or “The Base” as a name for the “Global Organization” in which Al-Zawahiri has exerted missionary as well as organizational efforts until uniting all groups under its umbrella and under the leadership of the inspirational Osama Bin Laden. Al-Zawahiri then kept his position as the “second man”.
Al-Qaeda then started to expand. During the following 3 years, the organization’s biggest operations outside Afghanistan took place. The 1st was the attacks against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, then the suicide attack on the American frigate USS Cole as it was fueling in the Yemeni port of Aden, and then the top operation during Al-Zawahiri’s long and complicated presence was the hijacking of American civil airplanes in 9/11, 2001. The American authorities chased him as a major suspect accused of planning and supervising the execution of such major terrorist attacks. Based on that accusation, his safe hideout in Kabul has been attacked with a drone. Still Al-Zawahiri’s pale image throughout his leadership of the organization is linked to a number of factors that prevented him from having the required charisma.
The most prominent factor – and which would later affect Al-Qaeda’s future and the world terrorism in general – is the rise of the Islamic State organization on the stage, as a dissent from Al-Qaeda in the Levant. The new version came with a more brutal and pro-active performance through utilizing current circumstances, while Al-Qaeda was reeling from the assassination of its historic leader Bin Laden, followed by the introduction of Al-Zawahiri as a top leader. However, this pale period of the organization’s leadership does not deny the man’s skills in strategically administering the world’s Jihad operations, more efficiently than running the daily affairs of the organization. However, it is quite obvious that the leaders of Al-Qaeda arms in Africa and Asia owe a great respect to Al-Zawahiri and realize that he played a significant role in building their areas of power.
Among those, their nature and effective powers, Al-Zawahiri’s successor will be defined, their future will be predicted, and –of course – the map of militant actions worldwide will be re-drawn.
Three of those names were rapidly brought to the front: the Egyptian Mohamed Salah-Eldin Zedan, aka Saif Al-Adl, living in Iran, played significant roles during the early years of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. He is the real founder of the organization’s arms in Africa, especially the Shabab Al Mujahedin in Somalia.
The 2nd is Yazid Mubarak Al Enabi, aka Abu Obaida Youssef Al Enabi, an Algerian citizen and the leader of Al-Qaeda branch in Maghreb since 2020. He fought in the Algerian civil war in the 1990s.
The 3rd is Abdel Rahman Al Maghrebi, a Moroccan citizen. He is Al-Zawahri’s brother in law, born in 1970, carrying advanced computer technology certificates from Germany, prior to moving to Afghanistan to run Al-Qaeda’s media branch, Al-Sahab Corp.
The geographical distribution of those potential successors and their areas of power, give a perception about the organization’s future, hence the world terrorism in general. Iran, which harbored Saif Al-Adl and a number of leaders after the US invasion to Afghanistan in 2001, will play a role in plotting the organization’s future, especially that Iranians have had face-to-face contacts with them, as happened in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, prior to the appearance of the Islamic State.
It is strongly expected that – away from the dilemma of choosing a successor of Al-Zawahiri – this new generation of leaders will introduce one of them, while the others will remain in their locations to take the organization to the recovery phase that has always been called for during Al-Zawahiri’s last years, who failed for age and health reasons to run to competition with the Islamic State.
This new segment of leaders possesses the ambitions and capabilities to give a new birth to Al-Qaeda which already has an un-ignorable influence in its regions.
Mokhtar Robo, a co-founder of the Youth Movement in Somalia, and former spokesperson, before dissenting from the movement in 2017, held a ministerial position in the new cabinet.
One of the prominent leaders Eyad Ghali, is powerfully controlling Al-Qaeda in the African Sahel, moving around in great calmness and confidence aiming to copy the Taliban scenario in Afghanistan.
Finally, the appearance of Al-Zawahiri in a luxurious residence in Kabul, under protection from Hakani Network, Al-Qaeda’s long-time allies, shows the intersection of Afghanistan with the upcoming terrorism paths, especially after Al-Zawahiri’s confirmed assistance for Taliban in its war against Welayat Khorasan, the Islamic State’s strongest arm in Central Asia.