LAHORE: In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s killing on Pakistani soil, the military and political leadership in Islamabad has come under enormous pressure from the Obama administration to provide credible intelligence to hunt down the remaining fugitive al- Qaeda leaders, believed to be hiding in Pakistan, especially Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri, who is expected to succeed Osama bin Laden.
Well-informed diplomatic circles in Islamabad say in their recent interactions with the Pakistani military and political elite, the high ups of the Obama administration as well as the US military elite have sought credible intelligence sharing from their Pakistani counterparts to hunt down Zawahiri.
Americans believe he and many other al-Qaeda leaders are holed up in safe houses, such as the one in Abbottabad and Pakistan should help unveil their whereabouts. Computer files and documents recovered during the May 2 raid by the Americans have already made it clear that Osama had been using his hideout as a command and control centre of al-Qaeda to convey strategic, operational and tactical instructions to his aides to carry forward his anti-American agenda.
US intelligence officials have informed their Pakistani counterparts that while operating from his Abbottabad hideout, Osama bin Laden was in regular contact with his top aides including Zawahiri. The seized documents indicate that Osama and Zawahiri had been planning yet another major terrorist attack on the American soil on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Since US intelligence agencies accuse Zawahiri to be the operational brain behind the 9/11 attacks, they have sought all possible intelligence sharing on urgent basis from Pakistan to preempt another 9/11 like episode.
In fact, it was in June 2001, a couple of months before the 9/11 incident that two jehadi outfits, Osama-led al-Qaeda and Zawahiri-led Egyptian Islamic Jehad, had formally merged into one to launched Qaeda al-Jehad. Although Osama eventually became the public face of al- Qaeda’s Islamic terrorism, the fact is that it was Dr Zawahiri and his team members who had actually provided the backbone of the larger organisation’s leadership. Dr Zawahiri has served as the public face of al-Qaeda over the past decade, appearing in numerous propaganda tapes and hosting an online question and answer session.
Therefore, the American intelligence agencies have already marked Zawahiri as their next target after bin Laden and are vigorously locate his whereabouts. It was in April 2009 that Dr Zawahiri was named by the US as al-Qaeda’s chief commander, as well as its operational and strategic leader, with Osama having already stepped back to become the ideological figurehead of the group.
US intelligence sleuths stationed in Pakistan believe that Zawahiri had seized control of al-Qaeda’s organizational set-up long ago and rebuilt the terror network into an organization capable of launching lethal terrorist attacks across the globe, even in the United States and the United Kingdom. A trusted aide of Osama for almost 20 years till his demise on May 2, Zawahiri is also believed to be hiding in some urban locality of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The Americans believe that Zawahiri had shifted from his hideout in Fata to some urban locality after having escaped a drone on January 13, 2006 in the Damadola village of Bajaur Agency in Fata that killed 18 people.
The drone attack was carried out on the basis of human intelligence provided by some former Pakistani intelligence sleuths, believed to be part of the Spider Group, which is being run by the CIA in Pakistan’s tribal areas on the Pak-Afghan belt to collect intelligence information about fugitive al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. However, Zawahiri was lucky enough to have survived the drone strike as he had already left the targeted building much before it was hit. In an audio message released later, Zawahiri had confirmed his presence in Bajaur Agency at the time of the missile strike: “US planes launched the assault under the pretext of wanting to kill my frail self and four of my companions.
However, all of us have survived the attack by the grace of Allah Almighty”. Zawahiri had survived the US drone strike the same month when bin Laden is believed to have shifted to his Bilal Town hideout in Abbottabad, way back in January 2006 when he had issued his first audio taped message since October 2004, after an extended gap of 15 months, accusing the Western world of waging a Zionist crusade against Islam, with special reference to Iraq. Pakistani intelligence officials believe Osama had entered Abbottabad from the Kunar province of Afghanistan through Bajaur Agency in Fata, where Ayman Zawahiri was targeted by US drones shortly afterwards. He had actually travelled to the Bajaur Agency to meet his family members.
As a matter of fact, Zawahiri is married to a woman from the Mohmand tribe who lives with her father and children in the border area between the Bajaur Agency and Mohmand tribal regions. However, it is not only Zawahiri who is now on the radar of the American intelligence agencies as their next target as there are several other top al-Qaeda leaders from Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia who the Americans desperately want to hunt down, especially Osama’s sons, Saad bin Laden and Hamza bin Laden, who were groomed by their father to eventually take control of his terror outfit in the event of his death. Saif al Adel - a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jehad - is another al-Qaeda commander under the American scan who has emerged the terror group’s top military planner and strategist.
The next al-Qaeda leader on US radar is Abu Yahya al Libbi, who had previously been a top leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and had served as a military commander in Afghanistan.