The new al Qaeda: 5 emerging leaders

It's been a tough couple of weeks for al Qaeda. Since the successful Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the terror network has suffered additional losses that analysts say are taking a heavy toll on the group.

Ilyas Kashmiri, al Qaeda's operational leader in Pakistan, was reportedly killed by a U.S. drone strike earlier this month (though al Qaeda hasn't confirmed his death, reports of which have been incorrect before). And last week, an al Qaeda leader in East Africa -- Fazul Abdullah Mohammed -- was killed by Somali forces in Mogadishu. Mohammed was the most wanted man in Africa.

Analysts and U.S. officials say the deaths have created a power vacuum.

"The organization is in a great deal of turmoil," a U.S. counterterrorism official told Foreign Policy. "It's trying to sort itself out with what's going on."

Bruce Hoffman, director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, said Kashmiri and Mohammed were key operational figures, not easily replaced due to their long pedigrees of planning and executing attacks.

"They are especially important because they would have been looked on to plan and implement any acts of retribution [for bin Laden's death] from al Qaeda," he said. "Their killings knock them seriously off balance."

Of course, al Qaeda is well-known for its ability to replenish its ranks. Analysts like Hoffman and Evan Kohlmann, who has consulted with the U.S. government, see a few key names potentially emerging to fill the void.

1. Saif al-Adel

Born in Egypt in 1960 or 1963, according to the FBI. Currently believed to be hiding in Pakistan's tribal region.

Al-Adel was reportedly named the interim chief of Al Qaeda after bin Laden's death. After the 9/11 attacks, he fled to Iran, where he was eventually put under house arrest. In 2008, Iran swapped him for a diplomat taken captive by al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Signature attacks: Has played a hand in many al Qaeda attacks, allegedly dispatching Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, to meet Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; and aiding the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa.

2. Abu Basir al-Wahishi

Born in Yemen in 1976, according to Interpol.

Since 2009, al-Wahishi has been leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based in Yemen. According to Interpol, he claims to have been secretary to bin Laden prior to 2003. He escaped from a Yemeni prison in 2006.

Signature attacks: His group has been linked to the Fort Hood shooting and the attempted bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of an airplane to Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009, among others.


3. Abu Yahya al-Liby

Born in Libya in 1973, according to the State Department.

Al-Liby was captured in 2002 and imprisoned at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, but escaped in July 2005. He's appeared in numerous propaganda videos since then.

Al Qaeda has named Liby one of its top field commanders in Afghanistan, according to the Washington Post.


4. Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah

Born in Egypt around 1963, according to the FBI.

Abdullah became one of al Qaeda's key money men after the September 11 attacks. The U.S. has a placed a $5 million bounty on his head.

Signature attack: Indicted for his alleged involvement in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa.


5. The Americans: Anwar al-Awlaki, Omar Hammami, and Azzam al-Amriki (Adam Gadahn)

This trio of American-born militants have been heavily involved in trying to recruit other Americans to join al Qaeda and its affiliated groups. Awlaki, who is hiding in Yemen, is "spiritual leader" of AQAP and has used social media to communicate with potential recruits. Hammami, who grew up in Alabama with a Southern Baptist mother and a Syrian father, is now a leader of Somalia's al Shabab insurgency. He's also a prolific rapper. Amriki is thought to be in Pakistan, heavily involved in releasing propaganda material targeted to Western audiences.

Getty Images, AFP/Getty Images


So which countries now officially recognize the Libyan rebels?

Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle announced today during a visit to Benghazi that his government would now recognize the Transitional National Council (TNC) as the official representatives of the Libyan people. Here's a breakdown of which major countries have officially recognized the Benghazi-based leadership and which countries haven't.


France was one of the first countries to recognize the rebels on March 10, some nine days before the NATO intervention began. Qaddafi broke off diplomatic relations with Paris the next day.

Qatar was the first Arab country to back the rebels, establishing diplomatic ties on March 28. Kuwait followed in April, Jordan in May, and the United Arab Emirates last week.

Despite a long-standing friendship between Qaddafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italy backed the rebels as the "only legitimate interlocutor" in April.

In mid-May, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague recognized the TNC and invited them to open a mission in London.  Spain and Australia soon followed.


The United States.  Despite playing a leading role in the airstrikes against Qaddafi and his loyalist forces, Washington hasn't officially recognized the Transitional Council.  White House spokesman Jay Carney said last month the U.S. is "continuing to assess the capabilities of the TNC," but it was up to the Libyan people to decide their government, not foreign states.  

Regional power house Turkey has not completely renounced Qaddafi, despite lobbying efforts by Libyan rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who visited Ankara late last month.

Russia and China. Both countries abstained in the Security Council vote authorizing a no-fly zone in Libya and have yet to cut off ties with Qaddafi. A Russian envoy might meet with him again this week in Tripoli.

Neighbor Egypt is allowing aid and medical material to cross its western border to resupply and aid the Libyan rebels, but it hasn't yet renounced Qaddafi's government. In fact, Jalil has alleged  that Qaddafi's associates are in Egypt, selling Libyan assets to get around international sanctions and recruiting mercenaries,  charges that Cairo denies.