Al-Qaeda’s Rising Ideologue

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The New York Times has a profile of Abu Yahya al-Libi, one of the most important figures within the core Al-Qaeda organisation. If you’re not already familiar with him, he’s worth finding out about. Once an obscure preacher, following his escape from American custody at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in July 2005 he has quickly risen to prominence, and is likely to become increasingly influential in the future.

Al-Qaeda Ideologue, Abu Yahya al-Libi (IntelCentre)

Al-Qaeda Ideologue, Abu Yahya al-Libi (IntelCenter)

According to Evan Kohlmann of the NEFA Foundation, Abu Yahya emerged as the de facto leader of the Libyan contingent in the Aghan-Pakistan borderlands following the death of fellow Libyan, Abu Laith al-Libi, in a recent US air strike. However, it is his skill as an orator, and his religious credentials, that have propelled him into his current role as Al-Qaeda’s most prominent ideologue after Bin Laden and Zawahiri.

Libi, a Libyan believed to be in his late 30s, is now considered to be a top strategist for Al Qaeda, as well as one of its most effective promoters of global jihad, appearing in a dozen videos on the Internet in the past year, counterterrorism officials said.

At a time when Al Qaeda seems more inspirational than operational, Libi stands out as a formidable star whose rise to prominence tracks the group’s growing emphasis on information in its war with the West.

“I call him a man for all seasons for AQ,” said Jarret Brachman, a former analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency who is now research director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and whose provocative studies on Al Qaeda have drawn praise from U.S. counterterrorism officials. “He’s a warrior. He’s a poet. He’s a scholar. He’s a pundit. He’s a military commander. And he’s a very charismatic, young, brash rising star within A.Q., and I think he has become the heir apparent to Osama bin Laden in terms of taking over the entire global jihadist movement.”

The secrecy that still envelops Al Qaeda’s leadership structure makes such estimates speculative, other analysts noted.

But one Islamist insider said that in addition to youth and charisma, Libi had one skill that Al Qaeda’s top leadership had been lacking: religious scholarship. Perhaps with this in mind, Al Qaeda is featuring Libi in as many of the videos as the group’s two top leaders, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri.

Read the full article here.

Update:

The NYT has a video report entitled ‘The Battle for Hearts and Minds’ which takes a look at Abu Yahya, and at the efforts of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point to outwit him in the war of perceptions. Click here to view.

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