McClatchy reports: The rise in prominence of Nasir al Wuhayshi, the Yemeni head of al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, underscores the transformation of al Qaida from a relatively small group led by one charismatic man into a diffuse global organization with many branches that pursue local objectives but follow a single ideology, according to counterterrorism analysts and officials.
The change has undermined the Obama administration’s boast that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have “decimated” what’s been called core al Qaida, according to veteran al Qaida watchers. Instead, the organization, no longer dependent on the leadership of a single personality, is growing, with authority now spread among leaders not just in Yemen but also in Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Egypt’s Sinai. The branches that operate in those regions aren’t affiliates, the experts say, they’re al Qaida.
The experts are still uncertain how the various leaders of al Qaida interact with one another, and there are signs that Ayman al Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who was named to lead al Qaida after U.S. special forces shot and killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011, still holds special influence.
But experts say it’s no longer accurate to talk about a core al Qaida that’s in charge of groups operating in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Iraq and Syria.
“The great fiction al Qaida perpetrated on the West is that a centralized, hierarchical group controlled things from a cave in Afghanistan. That might’ve been true five years ago, but it’s certainly not true now,” said Christopher Swift, an adjunct professor of national security studies at Georgetown University who advises U.S. officials on counterterrorism strategy. [Continue reading…]