I was asked in a recent interview with Chuck Mertz (June 4, 2011) about reports in the United States that Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen of Yemeni descent and thought to be living in Yemen, is the new al Qaeda leader after the killing of Osama bin Laden. I thought the speculation was somewhat off the mark and I said the two men were very different. In al-Awlaki, some in the American media were dealing with a simplistic image they thought they were familiar with.
Today, the BBC reports, quoting an Islamist website, that the successor to bin Laden is his deputy and mentor, Ayman Al-Zawahiri. In any case, Anwar al-Awlaki is too new, too young at just 40, to be accepted in such a position. Al-Zawahiri, a veteran of the Afghan war in the 1980s against the Soviet Union with a history going well before, and seen as bin Laden’s deputy for years, would make more sense. Al-Zawahiri is thought to be living somewhere in Pakistan, probably in the Northwestern tribal region. But after bin Laden’s discovery near Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, in a military garrison town, the exact whereabouts of any al Qaeda or Afghan Taliban leader cannot be predicted with certainty.