Veteran Egyptian militant Saif al-Adel has been named interim operational leader of al-Qaida, Noman Benotman, a former associate of Osama bin Laden and now an analyst with Britain's Quilliam Foundation think tank, told Reuters. Al-Adel's appointment, Benotman said, is a temporary maneuver aimed at calming concerned followers while the organization collects oaths of loyalty to the expected future leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
"This has happened in response to the impatience displayed by jihadists online who have been extremely worried about the delay in announcing a successor." Benotman said."It is hoped that now they will calm down. It also paves the way for Zawahiri to take over."
There is no independent confirmation of Benotman's report, which he says is based on his own contacts within jihadist circles. Benotman says he knew Adel when they fought together as militants in Afghanistan and that Adel had long been employed in the role of "chief of staff" to Osama bin Laden. Now, Benotman claims, Adel is not an "overall leader, but he is in charge in operational and military terms."
U.S. prosecutors say Adel is one of al-Qaida's leading military chiefs who contributed to the planning for the 1998 U.S. embassy attacks in East Africa and also set up training camps for al-Qaida in Sudan and Afghanistan in the 1990s. He is on the FBI's "Most Wanted Terrorists" list.
Quoting an anonymous source, the Pakistani News Daily reported that Adel was appointed at an urgent meeting of al-Qaida's commanders. It added that Adel has long been a close ally of Zawahiri and in charge of the organization's international contacts. Zawahiri and Adel worked together in the militant Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), formed to topple the secular regime of Anwar Sadat. Sources told The News that Zawahiri would remain al-Qaida's patron and the chief of the al-Qaeda Militant Command and will take over Adel's former role of monitoring international contacts.
While it is clear that Zawahiri is still positioned to seize the reins of al-Qaida, Benotman said that it is taking time to secure oaths of loyalty to bin Laden's deputy from the widely dispersed affiliates and branches of al-Qaida.