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Updated: June 18, 2011 01:48 IST

Scepticism and wariness in U.S. on al-Zawahiri's appointment

Narayan Lakshman
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(Top) Secretary of Defence Robert Gates with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen during a press conference in Washington on June 16, 2011. (Below) File photo of Ayman al-Zawahri, left, holds a press conference with Osama bin Laden in Khost, Afghanistan.
AP (Top) Secretary of Defence Robert Gates with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen during a press conference in Washington on June 16, 2011. (Below) File photo of Ayman al-Zawahri, left, holds a press conference with Osama bin Laden in Khost, Afghanistan.

A day after a militant website confirmed that al-Qaeda had chosen Egyptian cleric Ayman al-Zawahiri to succeed Osama bin Laden as its chief, United States Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen vowed that the U.S. would seek to capture and kill al-Zawahiri as it had bin Laden.

Commenting on the elevation of al-Zawahiri, Admiral Mullen said al-Qaeda “still threaten us,” despite having suffered a “huge loss” with the killing of bin Laden and others.

At the same briefing, when asked why he thought it had taken al-Qaeda seven weeks to pick a new chief, Defence Secretary Robert Gates quipped, “It's probably tough to count votes when you're in a cave.”

Mr. Gates argued that unlike bin Laden, who was the leader of al-Qaeda since its inception, al- Zawahiri lacked a “peculiar charisma” and was operationally less engaged than bin Laden had been. Yet others cautioned that under al-Zawahiri, for whose arrest the FBI is offering $25 million, al-Qaeda would continue to be a serious threat to U.S. national security.

Bill Roggio, military affairs analyst and Managing Editor of The Long War Journal, told CNN, “[Al-Zawahiri] has been a very public official. He's very well known in the rank and file. There [are] a lot of questions on how he's perceived in the ranks, but even bin Laden had his detractors.” In an earlier video message, al-Zawahiri himself had indicated that al- Qaeda would continue with bin Laden's mission, saying, “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.”

Secretary Gates did admit that al-Qaeda sought to perpetuate itself, “seeks to find replacements for those who have been killed and remains committed to the agenda that bin Laden put before them.”

He also alluded to possible suspicions in al-Qaeda that Pakistan’s may have had a role in the killing of bin Laden, saying, “There is some indication that al-Qaeda is worried that – because of the way we went after bin Laden, their suspicion is that the Pakistanis may have been involved in it and are worried that the Pakistanis may betray them as well.”

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