Vail Valley Voices: After Osama |

Vail Valley Voices: After Osama

Matthew Kennedy
Vail, CO, Colorado

May 1, 2011, will be remembered by anyone who witnessed the Sept. 11, 200, attacks. It’s a day when fortitude, patience, perseverance and resolve paid off. And when Al Qaeda suffered a serious setback by the killing of Osama bin Laden at American hands.

Bin Laden became a figurehead more than an operational leader after the 9/11 attacks. His death is a vital symbolic victory for the United States, and the 60-plus nations that lost citizens on the 9/11 attacks.

Bin Laden’s passing will not lead to a collapse, or demise of Al Qaeda, and related militant Islamist groups. Al Qaeda, and its affiliates will disappear after their recruitment, logistical and operational capabilities vanish. It will continue under new leadership.

There are several individuals within Al Qaeda’s central organization and its affiliates who will eventually control the entity’s operations. Several consequential issues need addressing. Will Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, become its new leader? Will an outside group attempt a coup? Will Al Qaeda’s central organization splinter? Or will another individual within the organization’s ranks or its associates attempt to control Al Qaeda?

The first question is a highly debatable. Ayman al Zawahiri has plenty of clout. He’s had a key role in planning the organization’s main operations. A vital unknown is whether he has the desire to control Al Qaeda. It’s an issue only his closest advisers know.

The answer to second question is probably no. The only non-Al Qaeda groups that might have an interest in controlling Al Qaeda are the Taliban or Pakistan’s Haqqani network.

It’s unlikely either will pursue it considering both have strong regional interests within South Asia. A takeover of Al Qaeda would expand their responsibilities. It would divert their focus from the region. Both organizations are more concerned about extricating NATO and American forces from Afghanistan, not attacking either’s home bases or controlling Al Qaeda’s broader franchise.

The responses to the third and fourth questions are contingent upon several individuals: Illyas Kashmiri, Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Nasir al-Wuhayshi.

Kashmiri and Shukrijumah are directly linked with Al Qaeda’s central organization. Both are involved with Al Qaeda’s operations. They differ, considering Kashmiri is in charge of an Al Qaeda unit responsible for attacking Western targets, a responsibility he recently acquired. Shukrijumah is obligated with planning and initiating, plus recruiting for Al Qaeda central’s operations.

An internal power struggle for control over the organization’s central leadership is probably likely among Zawahiri, Shurijumuh and Kashmiri.

The other question is will individuals within Al Qaeda’s affiliates seek to dominate the central organization, or influence its direction? These questions most notably apply to Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)’s leadership.

Any direct challenge for control of Al Qaeda from its surrogate groups will probably derive from Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb can’t be discounted, yet it’s a distant possibility. Nasir al-Wuhayshi and Anwar al-Awlaki are Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula’s main leaders, while Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud leads Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. These individuals may play a role in the direction of Al Qaeda’s future.

Al-Wuhayshi and Awlaki are potential players in an Al Qaeda power struggle. Al-Wuhayshi is Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula’s leader. Al-Wuhayshi presided over the creation of Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula. He also served as bin Laden’s secretary prior to the formation of the Arabian Peninsula’s group. Much of his authority stems from his relationship to bin Laden. Awlaki is a Yemeni born, American. He earned a Bachelors and Masters degree from American universities. He is a radical Iman, who has a following among Islamist extremists in Europe and the Middle East. His supporters included the culprits behind the London attacks, the failed August 2006 trans-Atlantic plot, and Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, who attempted to destroy an Amsterdam to Detroit flight. Awlaki is also involved with various operational activities, including the establishment of a terrorist cell within the United Kingdom. He and Al-Wuhayshi may play a significant role in the future direction of Al Qaeda.

The last player is Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud. He was the leader of the Algerian group that consolidated its efforts with Al Qaeda. Wadoud is currently the head of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. He is vital considering he attempted to expand Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s influence beyond Algeria. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb cells have been discovered throughout Western Europe. The question is will Wadoud attempt to broaden his influence into Al Qaeda’s central organization, now that Bin Laden is dead — time will tell.

Bin Laden’s death is crippling to the Al Qaeda movement. The upcoming weeks, months and years will determine how it will morph or if Bin Laden’s death will result in the Al Qaeda’s demise. A strong possibility is the above men will impact the aforementioned issues, and Al Qaeda’s future.

Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to

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