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Analysis: What is known so far about Zawahiri is nothing short of bone-chilling.
A senior administration official said at a press briefing Monday, “Bin Laden was Al Qaeda’s only ... commander in its 22-year history, and was largely responsible for the organization’s mystique, its attraction among violent jihadists, and its focus on America as a terrorist target.
"As the only Al Qaeda leader whose authority was universally respected, he also maintained his cohesion, and his likely successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is far less charismatic and not as well respected within the organization, according to comments from several captured Al Qaeda leaders. He probably will have difficulty maintaining the loyalty of bin Laden’s largely Gulf Arab followers.
“Although Al Qaeda may not fragment immediately, the loss of bin Laden puts the group on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse,” he said.
The senior official added that Zawahiri, as an Egyptian, is particularly vulnerable to a perception that many youth in the Arab world are putting new faith in challenging authority through social networking more than the murderous theology of Al Qaeda.
“It is most fitting that bin Laden’s death comes at a time of great movement towards freedom and democracy that is sweeping the Arab world. He stood in direct opposition to what the greatest men and women throughout the Middle East and North Africa are risking their lives for: individual rights and human dignity,” the official said.