ISLAMABAD - Osama bin Laden's second-in-command Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri's succession as the new al-Qaeda chief has not only put renewed American pressure on Pakistan for "credible intelligence-sharing" about his possible whereabouts, but also raised concerns about fresh terror attacks in Pakistan, which is already struggling to balance domestic politics with a deteriorating relationship with the United States.
Well-informed diplomatic sources in Islamabad say senior American intelligence officials have sought help from their Pakistani counterparts to track down Zawahiri, thinking that he may be hiding somewhere in an urban locality of Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa province, as had been the case with Bin Laden, who was hunted down by American raiders in Abbottabad on May 2.
Though the American raid has strained already prickly Pakistan-US ties, the Barack Obama administration is adamant to hunt down remaining al-Qaeda fugitives believed to be hiding in Pakistan, especially Zawahiri. While seeking intelligence-sharing, senior American intelligence officials have reportedly provided to their Pakistani counterparts a list of over two dozen high-value al-Qaeda and Taliban targets allegedly sheltering in Pakistan.
The list contains the names of many of those people who are on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) list of most-wanted terror suspects, although the US Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA's) and the FBI's lists are prepared independently.
Those named on the CIA list of non-Pakistani high-value al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked terrorists include Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number three Sheikh Yunis al-Mauretani, the fugitive amir of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Omar, al-Qaeda's chief operational commander for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Saif al-Adal, the chief of the Haqqani militant network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the Haqqani network, Sirajuddin Haqqani and his younger brothers Nasiruddin Haqqani and Badruddin Haqqani.
Others include the official spokesman of al-Qaeda, Sulaiman Abu Ghath, the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda, Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, al-Qaeda's field commander for operations in Afghanistan, Abu Yahya al-Libi, al-Qaeda's operational chief for North America, Adnan Al-Shukri Juma, Bin Laden's sons, Saad bin Laden and Hamza bin Laden, the leader of Turkish jihadis in the North Waziristan tribal area, Abu Hanifah, the commander of Chinese jihadis in North Waziristan, Abu Nasir, the chief of Uzbek and Tajik militants in North Waziristan, Abu Akash. Two German brothers, Mouneer Chouka alias Abu Adam and Yaseen Chouka alias Abu Ibrahim, who command German militants, are also included along with three white jihadis from the United States, Abu Ibrahim al Amriki, Sayfullah al-Amriki and Anwar al-Awlaki, two Yemeni militants, Nasir al-Wahishi and Qassim al-Raimi, a Saudi militant Said al-Shiri, and an Algerian jihadi Abdelmalek Droukdel.
The CIA hit list also carries the names of six key al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked jihadi leaders from Pakistan who are involved in targeting the Pakistani and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces and are considered common enemies by Washington and Islamabad.
They include the fugitive amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, commander Hakeemullah Mehsud, his fellow commanders Maulvi Faqeer Mohammad and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, Taliban renegades in Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Buhadar and Maulvi Nazir, and the fugitive amir of the Swat chapter of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, Maulvi Fazalullah.
However, the immediate target of the Americans is Zawahiri, who was formally appointed al-Qaeda's amir on June 16 through a statement posted on Ansar al-Mujahideen (Followers of Holy Warriors), an al-Qaeda-linked website.
Many in Pakistan's security circles say that while Zawahiri lacks Bin Laden's charisma, he should not be underestimated, mainly because of his organizational and operational skills.
They believe Zawahiri's elevation carries particular dangers for Pakistan because of its status as a nuclear power that is confronting deadly Islamic militants. In fact, because he has married into a local tribe in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, Zawahiri is closely involved with many key Pakistani jihadi groups and has been vigorously pursuing them for a jihadi takeover of Pakistan with a view to converting it into another Afghanistan.
Zawahiri, one of the founders of the international terror group, has played a significant role in the organization for over a decade as Bin Laden's number two.
Even before his elevation, he was widely regarded as the de facto leader and public face of al-Qaeda . Zawahiri actually became the public face of al-Qaeda after the US-led allied forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Since then, he has released fiery messages of jihad via video and audio tapes.
US intelligence sleuths stationed in Pakistan believe Zawahiri seized control of al-Qaeda's organizational set-up long ago and rebuilt the terror network into an organization capable of launching lethal terrorist attacks across the globe, even in the US and the United Kingdom.
Zawahiri, who recently described Pakistan as an American colony in a video message, was one of the brains behind the September 11 terror attacks in 2001. In his latest video appearance on June 8, Zawahiri vowed to avenge the death of Bin Laden "blood for blood".
The 28-minute video was the first statement from him to acknowledge the death of Bin Laden. Looking aged - he is 60 - and at times angry, Zawahiri used a chopping motion with his hands and urged his followers to remember the September 11 attacks against American and made a point to recall the deaths of US military personnel at the Pentagon.
He called on Pakistani youth to follow the example of the Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan and Syrian youth and overthrow the government. The statement said that al-Qaeda would not shift its policy and pledged its support to, among others, Taliban chief Mullah Omar.
With the death of Bin Laden, who was also one of the original 22 people on the FBI's list of "Most Wanted Terrorists" released by the George W Bush administration in October 2001, Zawahiri is now the world's most-wanted living terrorist. He was wanted by the US even before the 9/11 attacks targeting New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
He was indicted in absentia in 1999 for the August 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people, and was also considered the mastermind of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors.
Zawahiri went into hiding after the US-led forces overthrew the Taliban regime in October 2001, in the remote region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, never to be seen again. However, American intelligence agencies believe that Zawahiri is hiding somewhere in Pakistan. General Michael Hayden, former CIA director, told John King on CNN on May 3, 2011, a day after Bin Laden was killed that Zawahiri was "somewhere along the Pak-Afghan border".
Afterward, the US House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers said on May 15 that Zawahiri was most likely hiding in Pakistan. In an interview to a US television channel, Rogers said the US had known for years that Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders were living inside Pakistan.
Rogers said he knew that the Pakistanis had disclosed US operations and held back information, but believed the killing of Bin Laden may lead to more cooperation. "I hope they see this as an opportunity to be more cooperative, to be more open, to help us with other targets that we have in Pakistan that we are very interested in having apprehended and brought to justice. Zawahiri is a great example and I believe he is in Pakistan," Rogers added.
Therefore, the CIA has already marked Zawahiri as its next target and is vigorously pursuing its Pakistani counterparts to help them hunt him down.
United States intelligence sleuths believe Zawahiri shifted from his hideout in the FATA to some urban locality after escaping a drone strike on January 13, 2006, targeting Damadola village of Bajaur Agency in FATA that killed 18 people.
The attack was carried out on the basis of human intelligence provided by some former Pakistani intelligence sleuths, believed to be part of the Spider Group, which is being run by the CIA in the FATA, primarily to gather intelligence information about fugitive al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders as well as their activities.
But Zawahiri was lucky enough to have survived the strike as he had already left the targeted building much before it was hit. In an audio message released later, Zawahiri confirmed his presence in Bajaur Agency at the time of the missile strike: "US planes launched the assault under the pretext of wanting to kill my frail self and four of my companions. However, all of us have survived the attack by the grace of Allah Almighty."
However, credible indications of his presence in Pakistan came in the aftermath of the bloody Operation Silence, carried out by the Special Services Group of the Pakistan army in July 2007 in Islamabad against the fanatic clerics of Lal Masjid (Red Mosque).
As Pakistani security forces took control of the mosque after a fierce gun battle, they were astonished to discover letters written by Zawahiri to Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Maulana Abdul Aziz, the cleric brothers who ran the mosque and adjacent madrassa (seminary), directing them to conduct an armed revolt.
Zawahiri's Lal Masjid connection was confirmed when he later issued a videotape asking Pakistanis to join jihad in revenge for the Lal Masjid "bloodshed".
Zawahiri's four minute address was titled "The Aggression against Lal Masjid". The video was released by al-Qaeda's media wing, as-Sahab, and subtitled in English.
On August 1, 2008, CBS News reported that it had obtained a copy of an intercepted letter dated July 29, 2008, which urgently requested a doctor to treat Zawahiri. The letter indicated that Zawahiri was injured in a US missile strike at Azam Warsak village in South Waziristan on July 28. And last but not the least, following the May 2, 2011, killing of Bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad, the American intelligence community now strongly believes that he too may be hiding somewhere in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
During a joint session of the Pakistani parliament on May 13, which was held in the wake of the American raid that killed Bin Laden, Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha reportedly told elected parliamentarians that Mullah Omar and Zawahiri could be hiding in Pakistan.
It was the first time in 64 years since Pakistan came into being that the country's military and intelligence bosses had to appear before an unprecedented joint session of parliament to explain their collective failure on May 2, 2011.
When asked by a member of parliament whether Mullah Omar and Zawahiri could also be present in Pakistan without the knowledge of the ISI, Pasha replied, "Yes, this could be possible and we are enhancing our intelligence network and improving relations with tribal chiefs [in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border belt] to get any such information."
- unraveling the myth of Al Qaida
- how-israel-created-myth-of-al-qaeda (this is still my favorite since it came out in 2004)