Since the United States announced the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor, in July, the jihadist group Al Qaeda has refrained from commenting on the veracity of his death.
US President Joe Biden claimed on August 2 that he had killed an Egyptian jihadist in Afghanistan in a drone strike.
But since then, the jihadist group’s official media has continued to broadcast undated audio or video messages from its leader. They neither confirm nor deny his death.
“It’s really rare. A network only works with one leader. You need one person around whom everything revolves,” Hans-Jacob Schindler, director of the independent Counter-Extremism Project think tank, told AFP. told.
All options are open for other experts. “It certainly could be that the United States is wrong about his death,” investigators Raffaello Pantucci and Kabir Taneja noted in early December on the Lawfair website.
Experts recalled that the announcement of the execution of important jihadist leaders, which reappeared later, had already shocked Westerners.
He analyzed, “Given the confidence with which President Biden has spoken about the bombings, this seems unlikely.”
– Saif Al Adl Hypothesis –
Another hypothesis is that the group will not be able to contact Zawahiri’s supposed successor, his former number two, Saif al-Adl.
The former lieutenant colonel in Egypt’s special forces participated in Egypt’s Islamic Jihad in the 1980s.
After being arrested and later released, he went to Afghanistan to join Al Qaeda and became Zawahiri’s number two.
However, analysts regularly mention the possibility that al-Adl is hiding in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a Shia country that shows little sympathy for this ultra-radical Sunni movement.
For Schindler of the Counter-Extremism Project, “Saif is a liability but also an asset to the Iranian regime.”
Tehran, depending on its interests, can hand it over to the United States or, on the contrary, allow it to attack them.
Another possible scenario is that the Taliban silenced Al Qaeda. Zawahiri was shot dead in a wealthy neighborhood of Kabul, where the authorities could not ignore his presence.
decided not to comment [su ejecución] Trying to please Washington could be part of efforts to manage its fragile but deep relationship with al Qaeda, which it has promised will not let the group do as it pleases.
Al-Adl may also be dead or in hiding to avoid the fate of two leaders of his predecessor and rival Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, who were executed eight months apart in 2022.
– Limited importance of the central core –
Al Qaeda’s internal organization is now very different from what it was at the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York, United States.
The group has extended its subsidiaries from the Levant to Africa, passing through South Asia. But these subsidiaries are far more autonomous from the central organization than before.
The group’s silence following the US announcement of Zawahiri’s death “reflects the limited importance of al Qaeda’s headquarters.” It’s a symbol that unites groups, “but its operational relevance is weak,” says Barak Mendelsohn, a professor at Haverford University in Pennsylvania.
In this sense, the difficulties of Al Qaeda and IS are similar. In November, IS announced the death of its chief, the Iraqi Abu Hasan al-Hashimi al-Qureshi, and the appointment of his successor.
Tore Hemming, a Danish political scientist at King’s College London’s Department of War Studies, says, “Although IS has chosen new caliphs, no one has ever heard of them. However, branches remain loyal and pledge allegiance to an unknown caliph.” continued to take the oath of ,
“For Al Qaeda, it could be the same, with a simple council of high-ranking individuals taking on the role of an emir,” he says.