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Al-Qaeda’s Interim Leader

Samara Greenberg

Al-Qaeda has appointed an interim chief. According to reports out Tuesday, Egyptian-born Muhamad Ibrahim Makkawi, who goes by the name Saif al-Adel, has been chosen as the caretaker operational and military leader of the the terror group until it appoints a permanent successor for Osama bin Laden. Al-Adel will reportedly be the group’s number one while the organization collects pledges of loyalty to Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s top deputy, so that he can take the post. The delay in collecting those pledges for al-Zawahiri is reportedly due to the distance between al-Qaeda branches. Al-Adel is believed to have “occupied a role akin to chief of staff” before bin Laden’s death.

Saif al-Adel in an undated FBI photo

Terrorism expert Ilan Berman pointed to al-Adel several months ago as a terrorist to keep an eye on. Saif al-Adel, which means “sword of justice” in Arabic, has a long history of involvement in terror groups: He was an instructor at al-Qaeda camps and is believed to have helped plan the attacks against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and 2010’s mid-air parcel bomb plot, among others. A former Egyptian Special Forces officer, analysts say al-Adel – who has also used the name Ibrahim al-Madani – may be more dangerous a player than bin Laden.

Indeed, al-Adel’s appointment indicates that al-Qaeda is ready to rethink its strategy. In 2005, the al-Qaeda leader drafted a planning document arguing that Islamist movements failed because their “actions were mostly random.” Al-Adel advocated carrying out smaller, more often attacks, as they would be more damaging to the U.S. and the West than a handful of 9/11-like events. Moreover, in March 2010, al-Adel affirmed his commitment to al-Qaeda’s cause in an article believed to be written by him: “Al-Qaeda’s war…against the West is a long one which will last 20 years,” he wrote. “A war in which one of the sides is a coalition that controls the world, and the opposite side is an ambitious organization that inspires the ummah [the Muslim world] and seeks to revive it cannot be a war of one or two years…”

Some analysts suggested al-Qaeda would have a hard time regrouping after bin Laden. While al-Adel’s appointment does not discredit that analysis, it does provide the U.S. with a look into the how the organization’s top brass views al-Qaeda’s role in the future. Indeed, bin Laden’s death did not end America’s fight against radical Islam and the terrorist group that arguably started it all.