Terror group reels after death of its No.2, three months after bin Laden
The killing of al-Qaeda's No.2 leader deprives the group of
a multi-talented manager who helped it spawn offshoots around the world and
survive a US counter-terrorism campaign in Pakistan, security analysts say.
US officials said on Saturday that Atiyah abd al-Rahman, a
Libyan, was killed in Pakistan. One official said he was killed in a strike by
an unmanned drone on August 22.
The killing is likely to be particularly highly prized by
Washington as US strategists would have been concerned about Rahman's potential
influence in Libya's turmoil following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi,
Rahman, in his 40s and from the coastal Libyan town of
Misrata, built a reputation in al-Qaeda as a thinker, organiser and trusted
emissary of the Pakistan-based central leadership to its offshoots.
In particular he played a key role in managing ties between
the core leadership and al-Qaeda in Iraq and helped negotiate the formation in
2007 of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) with a group of Algerian Islamist
He was also one of the first al-Qaeda leaders to provide a
response to the uprisings in the Arab world, urging the group's supporters to
cooperate with the revolts even if the rebellions were not Islamist-inspired.
"It's immensely important that he's been killed,"
said Anna Murison, who monitors Islamist violence for Exclusive Analysis, a
London-based risk consultancy.
She said he was widely trusted throughout the organisation
and Islamists from very varied backgrounds listened to him.
"Al-Qaeda as an idea will live on, but al-Qaeda core as
an organisation looks pretty much finished as there are so few people who can
now move up into those senior ranks," she said.
She said he was one of only four people in al-Qaeda's
leadership with a global profile in the small but passionate transnational
community of violent Islamist militants.
She rates these as al-Qaeda's current leader Ayman
al-Zawahri, Egyptian plotter Saif al-Adl, and the other Libyan in al-Qaeda's
central leadership, the theologian Abu Yahya al-Libi.
Rahman rose to the number two spot when al-Zawahri took the
reins of al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden was killed in May in a US raid in
Noman Benotman, a former Libyan Islamist and now an analyst
at Britain's Quilliam think tank, said his death was a heavy blow to al-Qaeda
as he was its main organiser and manager.
"This was the one man al-Qaeda could not afford to
lose," Benotman said. "He was the CEO of al-Qaeda who was at the
heart of the management process of al-Qaeda worldwide.
Benotman said that in the last two years he "more or
less single-handedly" kept al-Qaeda together.
"He was a strong decision maker, an excellent debater
and a skilled peacemaker between various Islamist groups."
Benotman said Rahman, whose real name was Jamal Ibrahim
Ishtawi, was a graduate of the engineering department of Misrata University and
left Libya to go to Afghanistan in 1988 and join the Islamist groups then
fighting Soviet occupation.
He said Rahman was a personal acquaintance of his but was
never a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an Islamist guerrilla
organisation that waged a failed insurgency to topple Gaddafi in the 1990s and
of which Benotman was a leader.
Rahman was one of al-Qaeda's earliest members and worked for
the anti-Western militant group in Algeria and Mauritania as well as
Afghanistan, Benotman said.
In a statement posted on militant online forums on Feb. 23,
Rahman acknowledged that the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia were not the
"perfections for which we hoped", but they were happy occasions
He dismissed the notion that al-Qaeda had a "magic
wand" to gather large armies and lead the charge to overturn governments
and rescue besieged Muslims, according to a translation by the Site
Intelligence Group, a US monitoring company.
Rather, he wrote, "al-Qaeda is a simple part of the
efforts of the jihadi Ummah (nation), so do not think of them to be more than
they are. We all should know our abilities and to try to cooperate in goodness,
piety and jihad in the Cause of Allah; everyone in his place and with whatever
they can and what is suitable to them."