US names Al-Zawahiri world's 'number one terrorist'
President Barack Obama's national security adviser declared Ayman al-Zawahiri (left) to be the world's "number one terrorist" yesterday but said al-Qa'ida's long-standing deputy lacked Osama bin Laden's charismatic appeal.
A week after Bin Laden's death and with no successor yet named, the assessment will heighten speculation that al-Qa'ida is heading for a leadership battle.
Tom Donilon said: "Our assessment is that he is not anywhere near the leader that Osama bin Laden was."
He also said there was no evidence yet to suggest that the Pakistani authorities were aware that Bin Laden had set up home in Abbotabad only 30 miles from Islamabad.
Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian-born surgeon, is the man in line to take over, according to al-Qa'ida's own rules of succession, but intelligence officials and analysts believe his abrasive style has made him unpopular within the organisation.
Other possible contenders include Abu Yahya al-Libi and Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, two Libyans seen as increasingly important.
Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical cleric famous for his YouTube appeals to English-speaking converts from his base in Yemen, has also been mooted. However, his high profile is not matched by his status within the terrorist network.
Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani analyst, said it would take time for al-Qa'ida's dispersed leadership to select a new emir -- or paramount leader.
"What usually happens is that the leader anoints his successor which Osama was unable to do," he said. "So there is a possibility of a power struggle." (© Daily Telegraph, London)