The terrorist group al-Qaeda has a new leader: Said al Adel. This has been confirmed by a US State Department spokesman. According to US reports, Al Adel, an Egyptian national, resides in Iran and is said to have become head of the organisation after the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri in July 2022.
The State Department's statement coincides with a recent UN report that Al Adel is now the "de facto and undisputed" leader of al-Qaeda, signifying the group's "continuity". According to the UN, the jihadist organisation has not yet formally declared him "emir" for several reasons. The first reason is that it is a sensitive issue for the Taliban in Afghanistan, who still do not recognise that Zawahiri was eliminated by the US in Kabul last year.
On the other hand, the report points out that Al Adel resides in Iran, a Shiite-majority country, while al-Qaeda is a Sunni group. "His location raises questions about al-Qaeda's ambitions for global leadership in the face of challenges from Daesh (a rival group)," the UN said.
Al Adel, estimated to be in his early 60s, was formerly a former lieutenant colonel in the Egyptian special forces. Later, when he joined al-Qaeda, he was in charge of "developing the group's operational capacity" and trained the terrorists who planned and executed the 9/11 attacks on the United States, according to the NGO Counter Extremism Project. AP also claims that Al Adel was responsible for the security of Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda and mastermind of 9/11.
On the other hand, former FBI counterterrorism investigator Ali Soufan - quoted by AFP - claims that Al Adel has been in Iran since 2002 or 2003, initially under house arrest, but eventually free enough to make trips to Pakistan. The State Department notes that after several operations in Africa he moved to southeast Iran, "where he lived under the protection of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard".
"Saif is one of the most experienced professional soldiers in the global jihadist movement, and his body bears the scars of battle," Soufan wrote in an article in the journal of West Point's Combating Terrorism Center. "When he acts, he acts with ruthless efficiency," he adds.
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest of Al Adel, whose real name could be Muhamad Ibrahim Makkawi, Ibrahim Al-Madani or Muhamad Salah al-din al-Halim Zaydan. The US security and intelligence service also links the bomber to the 7 August 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Nairobi.
Analysts quoted by Reuters also say that Al Adel was involved in the 2002 assassination of US-Israeli journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, as well as the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. "He is one of the few remaining members of al-Qaeda's old guard and has been close to the organisation's central leadership for decades," experts stress.
"Seif al Adel's professional military background and his valuable experience as head of al-Qaeda's pre-9/11 military committee mean that he has strong credentials to assume overall leadership of al-Qaeda," jihadist expert Elisabeth Kendall told the news agency.
However, analysts such as Jerome Drevon of the International Crisis Group question whether al Adel can lead and manage the organisation after spending most of his time training in military camps.
"Many experts argue that he has had an important operational role in the past, but he is not equipped for leadership," Drevon told Reuters. "His skills are more suited to organising armed operations than managing a large network".
According to the UN, the threat posed by al-Qaeda, Daesh and related groups "remains high in conflict zones and neighbouring countries". In this sense, the UN warns about the situation in Africa, the continent "where the damage caused by terrorism is developing most rapidly and extensively".
Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.