Who's Left in al Qaeda?

With Osama bin Laden dead, who'll take over al Qaeda—and who could be plotting the next attack? From natural successor Ayman al-Zawahri to the Zelig-like Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and American Adam Gadahn, see photos.

Time Life / Getty Images

AP Photo

1) Ayman al-Zawahri

Ayman al-Zawahri  has succeeded Osama bin Laden as al-Qaeda's top leader. A doctor who was born into a rich Cairo family, he put in many years as bin Laden's No. 2 man in the terrorist organization. "U.S. intelligence agencies believe Zawahri functions as al Qaeda's most important ideological leader, and perhaps also the main operational leader of the network's activities," the Council on Foreign Relations has written. It's believed that Zawahri is now in Pakistan. The Daily Beast's Bruce Riedel writes that Zawahri is "al Qaeda's thinker—its key ideological spokesman and analyst—but he is also a ruthless operative who has masterminded terrorist attacks for three decades."


2) Abu Yahya al-Libi

Libyan-born Abu Yahya al-Libi is now in a good position to become al Qaeda's No. 2. He's known for his 2002 capture by American forces in Afghanistan and detention at Bagram Air Base—and subsequent escape in 2005. The U.S. State Department has described Libi as "a key motivator in the global jihadi movement" and notes that since he sprung himself out of jail, he's "appeared in a number of propaganda videos" for the terrorist organization. As Hoffman describes it, if Zawahri is in charge of al Qaeda's strategy, then Libi could be seen as the organization's "chief ideologue."

AP Photo

3) Saif al-Adel

The No. 3 man in al Qaeda is Saif al-Adel, who was born in Egypt in 1960 or 1963. He's on the FBI's terrorist list, wanted in connection to the bombings of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1988. In 2003, he was detained in Iran, and he later reappeared on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Today this top Qaeda officer is a specialist in "operational planning and implementation," says Hoffman. A former member of the Egyptian army special forces, Adel "is a warrior," Hoffman says. He's likely to become al Qaeda's chief of operations. His military background "makes him particularly dangerous," Hoffman adds, since he "knows regular and irregular warfare inside out."

AP Photo

4) Adnan G. El Shukrijumah

Born in 1975 in Saudi Arabia, Adnan El Shukrijumah is an American citizen who has lived in New York and Florida. In 2010, he was linked to an attempted plot to attack the New York City subway system. According to the FBI, "He has a pronounced nose and is asthmatic." A pilot who has excellent knowledge of the U.S., Shukrijumah "knows our society and may well know our vulnerabilities and pressure points," says Hoffman. Like the three other Qaeda top officers, Shukrijumah is probably in Pakistan.

Time Life / Getty Images

5) Sulaiman Abu Ghaith

Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait was a turning point for Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, as it was for Osama bin Laden. The Kuwaiti-born preacher delivered fiery sermons during the first Gulf War but was banned from preaching after its conclusion because of his criticism of the government. In 2000 he headed to Afghanistan and joined al Qaeda, becoming a chief spokesman. After the Sept. 11 attacks, he said, "The Americans should know that the storm of plane attacks will not abate. There are thousands of the Islamic nation's youths who are eager to die just as the Americans are eager to live." Around the same time, he was stripped of his Kuwaiti citizenship. In 2005 he was reported to be living in Iran. Hoffman estimates that today Abu Ghaith could be in Pakistan.

Getty Images

6) Adam Yahiye Gadahn

Adam Yahiye Gadahn has "no operational skills" and is "basically just a big mouth," says Hoffman. And yet this 32-year-old American, who was born in Oregon and relocated to Pakistan in the late 1990s, is notable for having been indicted for "treason and material support to al Qaeda," according to the FBI. And while Gadahn might not be a key soldier, "he's the American face of al Qaeda," Hoffman says, and is good for propaganda. "When we look at him we just see a mixed-up kid who gravitated towards terrorism," Hoffman notes, and yet he still "brings knowledge of us into al Qaeda's inner circle" which has value. In a photo gallery that appeared on Newsweek.com, Gadahn was described as "the Benedict Arnold of the 21st century."