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Beyond Yemen, Awlaki: Look for core Al Qaeda members outside the hot spots

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Aside from top leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mr. Adl is arguably the most experienced, senior leader remaining in the organization. He has deep chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear connections and knows the history of the terrorist group’s nuclear and biological weapons projects from day one. At the time of 9/11, the former Egyptian Army captain was regarded as the number three man in the organization – its chief of operations.

Saif al-Adl is not the only key target who has extensive experience with weapons of mass destruction. Last year, Saudi national Adnan Shukrijumah was named publicly as Al Qaeda’s external operations chief. In this role, he is responsible for planning attacks against the United States. And yet, based on the latest media reporting, Mr. Shukrijumah, who is on the FBI 10 most wanted list, also has been mysteriously bypassed on the group’s organizational chart.

Lacking insider knowledge of the latest machinations within Mr. Zawahiri’s restructuring of Al Qaeda, I can offer two explanations for this disturbing anomaly: Either Adl and Shukrijumah have been marginalized in Al Qaeda’s post-Bin Laden leadership hierarchy – or they have been replaced so they can completely dedicate themselves to planning current operations.

The latter is the most likely.

At large: key terrorists with WMD expertise

No one trying to manage an organization, meet people, recruit operatives, conduct fund raising, and run the daily business affairs of Al Qaeda is a good candidate to plan the next major attack. It simply doesn’t make sense for a group that has been so severely depleted in its senior ranks to marginalize dedicated jihadists in favor of far less experienced, unproven operatives. But it is logical that Zawahiri may have tasked his most experienced men to manage his group’s resurgence – by planning the next big thing.

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