The likely successor to al Qaeda after a strike killed leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is a veteran commando from Egypt who could serve as a “fixer” for the terror group, analysts said.
Saif al-Adel is likely to take over as the terror group’s emir in the aftermath of Saturday’s drone strike that killed al-Zawahiri and ended the 21-year manhunt for Osama bin Laden’s successor, according to the Middle East Institute.
The Egyptian-born commando has extensive experience as a military operative and in operational planning, according to the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, which named him as a possible successor to al-Zawahiri weeks prior to his killing.
Al-Adel — who uses aliases including Muhamad Ibrahim Makkawi, Seif Al Adel and Ibrahim Al-Madani — could ultimately serve as a “fixer” for the terror group, ICCT analysts believe.
“However, al-Adel has historically preferred to keep a low profile in his military and intelligence roles, pointing to a possible, though less likely, future as a figurehead if he becomes emir,” terror experts Tricia Bacon and Elizabeth Grimm wrote on July 15.
But al-Adel is believed to be in Iran, which complicates the matter, according to Charles Lister, a senior fellow and director of the group’s Syria and Countering Terrorism & Extremism programs.
“Over the past decade, at least three Al Qaeda affiliates are known to have the questioned the credibility of instructions coming from Saif al-Adel given his location in Iran, so were he to become Al Qaeda’s general commander, affiliates would almost certainly begin asserting their own organizational independence even more than they already do,” Lister wrote.
As the terror group continues to strive for global reach, the possible fracture could “spell its death knell,” Lister claims.
Iran will now also have to choose between expelling al-Adel or start harboring him if he’s ultimately chosen as al-Zawahiri’s successor, a senior counterterrorism analyst told CNN.
A former official in the Afghani network, however, told the network that he had heard Al-Adel had already left Iran for Afghanistan.
The Department of State is offering a $10 million reward for information leading to al-Adel’s capture. He’s being sought in connection to the August 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, where 224 people, including 12 Americans, died in nearly simultaneous bombings.
“Al-Adel is thought to be affiliated with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) and is believed to be a high-ranking member of the Al-Qaeda organization,” an FBI Most Wanted Terrorist poster reads.
Some have speculated Al-Zawahiri’s son-in-law, Abd al-Rahman al-Maghribi, could also emerge as Al Qaeda’s new leader. He currently heads up the terror network’s media committee, ICCT reported.
“These familial bonds – as well as his experience in running Al Qaeda’s global media – may give him the ‘bona fides’ to assume this leadership role,” Bacon and Grimm wrote.
Other possible dark horse candidates to step into the role include Egyptian operations commander Abu Ikhlas al-Masri or Amin Muhammad ul Haq Saam Khan, who former coordinated security for bin Laden, ICCT reported.
“While it is uncertain who will rise to the top spot, our analysis of al-Zawahiri and his variation as a leader demonstrates that even knowing the individual provides only so much information about the type of leader he will be,” Bacon and Grimm wrote. “Therefore, we argue that it is less important to ask who al-Zawahiri’s successor will be, and rather to ask what type of leader he will be.”