The question: Who will take over next?
Al-Qaida expert Ali Soufan points to an Egyptian, Saif al-Adl, as one of the candidates to be dreaded by the West, given al-Adl’s revered status within Al-Qaeda, his experience and the potential of his charisma to draw back Al-Qaeda defectors who’ve moved to other groups.
al-Adl is wanted by the FBI in connection with the 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. He has also been the long-time head of the Al-Qaeda military council and has a long history in Al-Qaeda senior circles.
But Al-Qaeda, overall, now faces a succession crisis and a shaky future. That includes rivalries against aggressive upstart extremist groups that came into being after 9/11 and also have a presence in Afghanistan.
Charles Lister, another expert in violent extremist networks, wrote after the killing that the nature and spread of conflicts around the Middle East, Africa and South Asia today favor locally focused jihadist organizations rather than globally focused ones.
Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi
Another potential person to succeed al-Zawahiri would be Ayman al-Zawahiri’s son-in-law, Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi.
al-Rahman al-Maghrebi is originally from Morocco and has been at the head of Al-Qaeda’s media operations since 2010.
Al-Qaeda’s next leader will have to prove his relevance to “self-confident affiliates that have been more willing to push back against a central leadership perceived as detached from the realities of conflicts thousands of miles away,” Lister wrote.
Despite being largely out of the headlines since Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011, Al-Qaeda has been behind a number of terrorist attacks.
The group held 800 people hostage at a gas facility in Algeria in 2013, killing 69 people. The group claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in 2015. And an Al-Qaeda suicide bomber failed to take down a Somali airliner in 2016.
The group also claimed responsibility for a shooting at a Florida Naval Air Station in 2019 that killed three people.
The United States will continue to monitor this situation, because taking out al-Zawahiri does not end the possibility of Al-Qaeda rising again.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.