Chris Anzalone on AQ’s charismatic new leadership

Amidst all of the talk about bin Laden’s death and succession, there is growing interest in the main-stream conversation in the younger generation of al-Qaeda leaders who, for all intents and purposes, have increasingly been the group’s public face for the past several years. In that vein, al-Wasat contributor Chris Anzalone has a really fantastic piece over at Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel looking at this new generation, with a focus on Abu Yahya al-Libi, Khalid bin ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Husaynan, ‘Attiyatullah al-Libi, and Anwar al-Awlaki. Here’s how it starts, but the whole piece is well-worth your time:

In the aftermath of the U.S. military’s killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden last month, analysts and presumably Al-Qaeda Central (AQC) are heavily engaged in discussions about possible successors to the Saudi militant as the new public face of the transnational jihadi trend, with sources reporting recently that Egyptian Saif al-Adel had been named the group’s “interim” leader. Yet the intense focus on who will be the “new bin Laden” glosses over the important fact that al-Qaeda has over the past several years developed a charismatic and influential cadre of scholar-ideologues who play a major role in legitimating the group’s campaign of violence and calling on Muslims to join or support it, a role made more important by the confusion that has resulted in jihadi circles from bin Laden’s death.

In an attempt to overcome the deficit of religious legitimacy in the senior levels of al-Qaeda and other militant groups, these organizations rely heavily on this cadre of ideologues, figures who possess some scholarly credentials (though the exact nature of these credentials is often left ambiguous). They combine some intellectual bona fides with personal charisma and rhetorical flare and serve as a kind of “missionary vanguard” for AQC and its sister groups. Chief among this group are AQC’s “mufti” (chief religious jurist), Abu Yahya al-Libi, the Kuwaiti preacher Khalid bin ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Husaynan, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-affiliated (AQAP) American militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, and Libyan ‘Atiyyatullah al-Libi, who some counter-terrorism officials have described as AQC’s “operations chief.”

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