Opinion: What Ayman al-Zawahiri’s death means for al-Qaida’s future

Opinion: What Ayman al-Zawahiri’s death means for al-Qaida’s future

Published August 2, 2022
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In this 1998 file photo, Ayman al-Zawahiri (left) holds a press conference with Osama bin Laden in Khost, Afghanistan. Zawahiri succeeded bin Laden as al-Qaida’s leader following the 2011 U.S. raid that killed bin Laden in Pakistan. Mazhar Ali Khan/Associated Press hide caption

In this 1998 file photo, Ayman al-Zawahiri (left) holds a press conference with Osama bin Laden in Khost, Afghanistan. Zawahiri succeeded bin Laden as al-Qaida’s leader following the 2011 U.S. raid that killed bin Laden in Pakistan.

After hunting for him for 21 years, U.S. forces killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri over the weekend with a drone strike targeting him at a safe house in Kabul, Afghanistan. Zawahiri had led al-Qaida since May 2011, when U.S. special operations forces killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

While al-Qaida has been weakened significantly over the past 20 years, the killing of Zawahiri is important symbolically, given his legacy in engineering the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and his competent leadership as a terrorist mastermind. His death brings al-Qaida to a major crossroads, as it selects a new leader, or emir. The group’s leaders will have to decide whether to go with a known and trusted top figure — or a newer one who might appeal more to the next generation of recruits.