Al Zawahiri as Leader of Al Qaeda Does Little to Alter Its Waning Influence

Scott Erickson /

The announcement that Osama bin Laden’s longtime second in command, Ayman al Zawahiri, will lead the fractured terrorist group came as no surprise to pundits and observers. Since joining forces with bin Laden in 1998, al Zawahiri had jointly pursued a series of dramatic assaults on the United States and Western interests abroad, including the tragic attacks of 9/11 and the bombing of the USS Cole in the Gulf of Aden in 2000. While the ascendance of al Zawahiri to lead al Qaeda Central is largely anticlimactic, his appointment nonetheless does little to alter the current trajectory of al Qaeda Central’s waning influence on the global stage of pan Islamist movements.

Born into an affluent Egyptian family, al Zawahiri has long been at the forefront of Islamist movements throughout the Middle East, notably within his homeland of Egypt. A member of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad, al Zawahiri spent three years in an Egyptian prison following the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar al Sadat in 1981. Following his release from prison, al Zawahiri continued to foment jihad while participating in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It was there that he met Osama bin Laden, beginning a collaborative relationship that would continue until bin Laden’s death last month. (more…)