The steady trickle of news this week on the major al-Qaeda-linked terror threat that closed U.S. embassies across the Middle East continues, and from it the public is learning more and more about the current state of the global terrorist organization. While the threat, which seems to have its roots in both the Yemen wing and in the central Pakistan-based leadership of the organization, has produced a conservative meme mocking Obama's election-year statements that "core al-Qaeda" has been decimated, the emerging story also details how the terrorist group has changed — and continues to shift — since the 2011 death of its leader, Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden's former deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri is the current leader of al-Qaeda, but he's not nearly as high profile as his predecessor, or even some of the other "stars" of his organization. That distinction goes to the chapter known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, where the most recent threat is said to have originated. (The Yemen wing even has its own Buzzfeed listicle.) And there's a few reasons for that: Al-Zawahiri isn't nearly as charismatic as bin Laden was — he's of the intellectual cut. Plus, he's kept a low profile since bin Laden's death, making the recent focus of al-Qaeda's plans a regional one, centered on Yemen. Until now.
Over at TIME, Michael Crowley makes an interesting case that the latest threat and the ensuing global attention it's received, could have the side effect of providing al-Zawahiri with an opportunity to resurrect the notion of al-Qaeda as a singular terrorist "brand," centered around him. That's in part because the U.S. discovered the threat through an intercepted message between al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda's Yemen chief Nasser al-Wuhayshi, which led them to a conference call involving the group's head and as many as 20 al-Qaeda leaders.
In other words, the Pakistani leadership of al-Qaeda has its fingerprints all over the threat, despite being hatched and executed in Yemen. Crowley argues that this tells us two things. First, that the U.S. considers the organization's leadership in Pakistan much more dangerous than the president's public statements following Bin Laden's death have indicated. And second, that al-Zawahiri may want to gain more control over the organization's regional cells. Al-Zawahiri also brought the high-profile Yemeni wing closer to the Pakistani leadership by appointing Nasser al-Wuhayshi as his overall number two, according to a CNN report.
Al-Zawahiri is also behind a series of recent anti-American threats that immediately came to mind for many upon the news of the al-Qaeda plot and State Department warnings. In recent days, the terrorist leader (who is Egyptian) blamed the U.S. for the overthrow of Islamist president Muhammed Morsi in Egypt, and called for a renewed response against the U.S.'s use of drones in Yemen and Pakistan.
Inset photo: Reuters