A month and a half after the death of Osama bin Laden in a raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a statement attributed to al-Qaida said his deputy, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri, 59, has succeeded him as head of the organization. The group’s statement, which was posted on an Islamist website, said al-Zawahri would lead the fight against the U.S. and Israel.
Al-Zawahri said in a video euology earlier this month that “[t]he sheikh has departed, may God have mercy on him, to his God as a martyr and we must continue on his path of jihad to expel the invaders from the land of Muslims and to purify it from injustice.”
The BBC analyzes the succession:
The BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Jon Leyne, says priorities for al-Qaeda’s new leader may include attempting to to mount a big attack to show the organisation is still in business.
In addition, he says, Zawahiri will want to turn the wave of unrest in the Middle East to al-Qaeda’s advantage - perhaps building more of a power base in Yemen and working to intensify the instability there.
You can read a series of statements his statements, dating back to 1998, here.
Al-Zawahri, who was formally trained as an eye surgeon, was seen by many as the automatic successor to bin Laden. Analysts say he is effective as an organizer but is less charismatic than bin Laden.
Large Protests in Greece Fuel Political Uncertainty
After riots broke out in Athens, with protesters decrying austerity measures being considered by members of parliament, Prime Minister George Papandreou is looking to reshuffle his cabinet and shore up his Socialist Party, which has seen growing division over the issue in recent days.
Papandreou was expected to call an emergency session on Thursday.
The austerity measures being considered would need to be in place by the end of June in order for Greece to receive an aid package to address the country’s steep debt from the International Monetary Fund and European Union. The measures have been controversial within the government and have spurred the demonstrations, which police used tear gas to contain on Wednesday.
Reports: Town on Pakistan Border Stormed by Militants
Pakistani officials say an estimated 200 heavily armed militants crossed the border from Afghanistan and raided the town of Mamoond, injuring local residents. The attack comes weeks after a similar raid in the Upper Dir region of Pakistan, which killed 25 Pakistani troops.
The border area is a sore point for both countries, as well as NATO forces in the area, and Pakistan’s northwest tribal areas pose a difficulty for rooting out insurgents.
Blast Targets Police Headquarters in Nigeria
An explosion at the police headquarters in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, created a thick plume of black smoke and destroyed nearby parked cars, according to witnesses. A police spokesman said two people were killed in the attack.
The body of a suicide bomber is also said to have been recovered. Though there have been several recent bombings, the use of suicide bombers remains relatively rare.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but a militant Islamist organization known as Boko Haram has launched several recent attacks on government and police facilities.
Violence in Vancouver After Stanley Cup Loss
Fans took to the streets of Vancouver, British Columbia, Wednesday night, rioting and looting following the Canucks’ 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in the Stanely Cup finals. Vehicles — including several police cars — were set on fire and shop windows smashed in as disappointed and drunken fans gathered in Vancouver’s streets. There were no reports of serious injuries.
Vancouver’s mayor, Gregor Robertson, said “Vancouver is a world-class city and it is embarrassing and shameful to see the type of violence and disorder we’ve seen tonight.”
Video from the scene shows cars being destroyed in the street and rioters being arrested.
Leon Panetta, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ likely successor, is on Capitol Hill Thursday to answer questions before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Panetta has received support from both sides of the aisle and is all but assured confirmation, but faces questions over the future of a Defense Department managing operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and in light of budget constraints across the government.
The New York Times’ The Caucus blog is liveblogging updates throughout the hearings.
Panetta said he supports “the commitment of the president to try to take action to reduce the deficit,” but did not directly support a proposed $400 billion in defense cuts over the coming decade. President Obama has asked for long-term cuts in the Pentagon’s budget on top of the $78 billion already introduced by Secretary Gates. Panetta said the U.S. didn’t need to “choose between strong fiscal discipline and strong national defense.”
Panetta said the death of Osama bin Laden, the “spiritual leader of al-Qaida,” impacted their operations but that the network remains dangerous and we “have to pay attention to these nodes that are developing” in places like Yemen and North Africa.
He also said the U.S. needs to work on building a “relationship of trust with Pakistanis” because “it is in the interest of both countries” because both nations are threatened by the existence of terrorist groups. Panetta described the U.S.-Pakistan alliance as among the “most critical and yet one of the most complicated and frustrating relationships” the U.S. has.
Answering a question from Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., about the worst-case outcomes for Afghanistan, Panetta said “We not only create another safe haven for al-Qaida and their militant allies, but the world becomes a much more threatened place because of that loss, particularly in that region.”
Addressing concerns about sustainability, Panetta said Afghanistan’s government needs to begin raising the revenue it would need to cover its own expenses.
With regard to U.S.-supported NATO air strikes on Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya and a possible post-Gadhafi political plan, Panetta said “we have a lot more work to do in order to ensure that if Gadhafi does step down, Libya will be a stable country,” but said he felt confident leaders could emerge from the current opposition coalition.
As Prepared for Delivery –
I want to thank Hillary Clinton, who has traveled so much these last six months that she is approaching a new landmark – one million frequent flyer miles. I count on Hillary every day, and I believe that she will go down as of the finest Secretaries of State in our nation’s history.
The State Department is a fitting venue to mark a new chapter in American diplomacy. For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change take place in the Middle East and North Africa. Square by square; town by town; country by country; the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights. Two leaders have stepped aside. More may follow. And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security; history and faith.
The Washington Post’s Manuel Roig-Franzia profiles who pulled the trigger.
(Shared by reporter/producer Tom LeGro)