al-Qaeda: Who Is Next Leader?

The United States on July 30 killed Top al-Qaeda Leader and torch-bearer of global jihad Ayman al-Zawahiri. After its inception in 1988, the terrorist organisation is going to see its second leadership change. Al-Zawahiri took over as the second ‘emir’ or chief of al-Qaeda after US Navy SEALS killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011.  


When Bin Laden was killed, only the name of al-Zawahiri was heard to the post of amir. Al-Zawahiri was close friend and long time deputy to bin Laden and the terms of the 2001 merger of al-Qaeda and the EIJ had zeroed in on al-Zawahiri as the next emir.  Well, the present situation is not so and atleast four are now in the race for becoming the amir. Egyptian Saif al-Adel is the frontrunner in the race. Abd al-Rahman al-Maghribi, Yezid Mebarek, and Ahmed Diriye are the others in the race.


Saif is former Egyptian Army officer. He is also a founding member of Al-Qaeda. He is on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists. The FBI in its website says that he was born on April 11 but the year is confusing. The FBI has announced a reward of $10 million for any information about him. Saif joined the precursor terror group Maktab al-Khidmat in 1980s. He met Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri during this period and joined their group Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ). He also fought the Russian forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Adel played a critical role in the 1998 bombing of the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; orchestrated al-Qaeda’s failed terrorist campaign in Saudi Arabia in 2003; tutored and mentored Hamza bin Laden, Osama’s son and reputed heir as al-Qaeda emir; and, in recent years, oversaw al-Qaeda’s operations in Syria.

l-Adel was also linked to the killing of the American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002. After the 9/11 attacks, al-Adel went into hiding in Iran, where he continues to remain despite intermittent periods of incarceration.


Son-in-law of al-Zawahiri, he was born in Morocco. He studied software programming in Germany. The FBI says that Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrib later travelled to Afghanistan where he was tasked with managing al-Qaeda’s media wing, the al-Sahab. He is also known to have fled to Iran after 9/11, and the FBI believes that he travels between Iran and Pakistan. A US designated terrorist, al-Maghribi carries a bounty of $7 million.


The Algeria-born emir of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) rose in prominence after his predecessor, Abdelmalek Droukdel, was killed by French forces in Mali in 2020. He is also known as Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi. He was was previously the leader of AQIM’s Council of Notables and served on AQIM’s Shura Council. Al-Anabi was formerly AQIM’s media chief.


Ahmed Diriye is also known as Ahmed Umar and Abu Ubaidah. He is the leader of al-Shabaab—a position he has occupied since the death of former al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane. He, according to the US, shares his predecessor’s “vision for al-Shabaab’s terrorist attacks in Somalia as an element of al-Qaida’s greater global aspirations”.

The Taliban had claimed that it had no knowledge of al-Zawahiri’s presence in Afghanistan. In an official statement, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan said that it had instructed the intelligence agencies to hold a comprehensive and serious investigation.

Reports say that the killing  of al-Zawahiri was a significant gain for the United States, which was in need of a major victory in its global counterterror operation since its withdrawal from Afghanistan. On the other hand, reports mention that it was a severe set back for al-Qaeda, which hass been long suffering from financial issues, infighting and lack of a geographical haven.


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