Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s long-serving second in command, has been appointed leader after the death of Osama bin Laden. The statement announcing it was posted on a militant website and said : “Sheikh Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, may God guide him, assumed responsibility as the group’s amir [leader].”
At the beginning of May US forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
Under Egyptian-born Zawahiri’s direction, the organisation vowed to continue fighting a holy war against the US and Israel “until all invading armies leave the land of Islam”.
Analysts say the 59-year-old man is intelligent and some experts claim he has been the “operational brains” behind the 9/11 attacks on the US.
However they also say he lacks the charisma of his predecessor.
He has been bin Laden’s deputy for years and has a $25m bounty on his head.
In a video message posted on the internet on 8 June, Zawahiri said al-Qaeda would continue to fight : “The sheikh has departed, may God have mercy on him, to his God as a martyr and we must continue on his path of jihad to expel the invaders from the land of Muslims and to purify it from injustice.”
“Today, and thanks be to God, America is not facing an individual or a group, but a rebelling nation, which has awoken from its sleep in a jihadist renaissance.”
In this message Zawahiri also applauded the Arab uprisings against “corrupt and tyrant leaders”, before urging those involved to continue their “struggle until the fall of all corrupt regimes that the West has forced onto our countries”.
Although Zawahiri is believed to be hiding in the Afghan-Pakistan border region, Osama bin Laden and other key militant leaders, also believed to be concealed in this area, have since been discovered in Pakistani towns and cities.
Since bin Laden’s killing in a covert operation, relations are more strained between Washington and Islamabad.
While US president Barack Obama said “someone” was protecting bin Laden, Pakistan has denied any knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts. Islamabad has also arrested alleged CIA informants.