Ayman al-Zawahiri: The Man Most Likely to Succeed bin Laden

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AP / IntelCenter / File

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a frame grab taken from a video issued by al-Sahab, al-Qaeda's media branch, and provided by IntelCenter on Feb. 27, 2008

While one would hope that the death of Osama bin Laden might signal an end to terrorism, a successor is already reportedly being lined up by al-Qaeda.

The main name in the news is the (already infamous) Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri. And bin Laden’s former right-hand man is clearly a natural candidate for the world’s top terrorism job.

The bond between the two men allegedly began in the late 1980s, when al-Zawahiri supposedly treated bin Laden in the caves of Afghanistan while a Soviet bombardment attacked the mountains around them. This friendship set al-Qaeda on its way, culminating with the 9/11 attacks. And it’s widely thought that the devastation caused at the World Trade Center and Pentagon couldn’t have taken place without al-Zawahiri’s influence.

(More on TIME.com: See pictures of 9/11.)

What do we know of al-Zawahiri? Perhaps inevitably, his views are extremist and his willingness to use deadly violence isn’t in doubt. His 2001 treatise “Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner” established a long-term strategy for the jihad movement. To wit: to inflict “as many casualties as possible” on the Americans, while attempting to establish control in a nation, and “to launch the battle to restore the holy caliphate” of Islamic rule across the Muslim world.

Indeed, even when bin Laden was alive, it was al-Zawahiri who was tasked with rebuilding al-Qaeda’s leadership in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region in light of U.S. attempts to dismantle the terrorist organization post-9/11. Just as worrisome, bin Laden considered al-Zawahiri a mentor. “Al-Zawahiri was always bin Laden’s mentor. Bin Laden always looked up to him,” terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University told the AP.

Al-Zawahiri has taken both President George W. Bush (“Bush, do you know where I am?” he sneered in a January 2006 video weeks after a U.S. air strike in Pakistan targeted him but missed. “I am among the Muslim masses … and I’m participating in their jihad until we defeat you”) and President Barack Obama to task. In fact, his anger toward Obama goes further than bin Laden’s ever did. Just two weeks after the 2008 election, al-Zawahiri described Obama as a “house negro,” a slur for blacks who are subservient to whites, which served as an unfortunate reminder both then and now that the war on terrorism is far from over.

See TIME’s obituary of Osama bin Laden.

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