After US President Joe Biden announced the death of Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in a precision drone strike, speculations arose about potential successsor, another Egyptian Al Qaeda figure, Mohammed Salahaldin Zidan, who goes by the alias Saif al-Adel, emerged as a likely contender, as per security officials who audit the region.
Till now, there is no clarity on the current location of Adel, who was speculated to be in Iran.
Ayman al-Zawahiri’s death will hit the morale of the group’s supporters and cadres in India but there is also the issue that disgruntled fighters may decide to join the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) according to sources cited above.
On condition of anonymity, an official in charge of monitoring global terrorism and the activities of international terror groups, said “Considering the operational capabilities of ISKP to mount spectacular attacks, any possible tilt from Al Qaeda ranks to Islamic State warrants serious attention.”
Considering that Adel, a veteran field expert and former lieutenant colonel in the Egyptian special forces, has led reckless attacks like the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the Indian intelligence community is closely keeping watch on Al Qaeda’s actions.
Adel reportedly trained some of the hijackers involved in the 9/11 attacks while fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The Indian government, which recently re-established a diplomatic presence in Kabul, did not issue any official statements after Zawahari’s death.
However, the official added that Zawahiri’s death is likely to hurt al-regional Qaeda’s affiliates, including Ansar al-Islam and Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).
According to the most recent report from the UN sanctions monitoring team, AQIS reportedly has 180–400 fighters, mostly from Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, and Pakistan.
After the controversy surrounding remarks made against the Prophet Mohammed by two former BJP spokespersons, intelligence authorities recently got information that Al Qaeda members in India were driving propaganda campaigns and attempts to rebuild the organisation. AQIS had vowed to carry out strikes in a number of locations, including Delhi, Mumbai, UP, and Gujarat in June after the remark made by former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma.
In a video published in April of this year, al-Zawahiri discussed the hijab dispute in Karnataka and urged Muslims in the subcontinent to fight the attack on Islam “intellectually, using the media, and with weapons on the battlefield”.
In July 2019, he asked the “mujahideen in Kashmir” to strike the Indian Army and the government in Jammu and Kashmir with unrelenting blows.
Since the primary fighting branch of the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, was responsible for multiple attacks against Indian interests, there were concerns in India after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last year that Al Qaeda’s power would increase and trained fighters could be deployed to India.
Another official said, “The extremely close ties between Taliban and Al Qaeda are evident from the fact that al-Zawahiri was stationed in a posh Kabul neighborhood. This close Al Qaeda-Taliban tie-up is totally against Indian interests, especially in the backdrop of Al Qaeda’s intentions to target India.”