Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri calls the shots, says State Department

Thursday, April 30th 2009, 10:04 PM

WASHINGTONAl Qaeda‘s No. 2 thug has “emerged” as its operational leader after seven years on the run with the same $25 million bounty on his head as Osama Bin Laden.

Despite years of Bush administration claims that Ayman al-Zawahiri – an Egyptian doctor turned Bin Laden deputy – was on the lam with his boss and unable to exert control, the opposite is now true, a State Department report said Thursday.

“Al Qaeda has reconstituted some of its pre-9/11 operational capabilities” in Pakistan‘s tribal safe haven on the Afghan border, replaced lost lieutenants and achieved “the restoration of some central control by its top leadership, in particular Ayman al-Zawahiri,” the annual Country Reports on Terrorism said.

“Although Bin Laden remains the group’s ideological figurehead, Zawahiri has emerged as Al Qaeda’s strategic and operational planner,” the report added.

The new assessment wasn’t a surprise to terror experts, since Zawahiri put out 12 audio and video messages last year and four this year, including one last week.

“As important as it is to neutralize Al Qaeda’s top leaders, you also have to maintain an unblinking focus on disrupting its operations,” said Kenneth Wainstein, a top George W. Bush homeland security adviser now with the O’Melveny and Myers law firm.

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