U.S. officials say Al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, was killed in Pakistan’s Waziristan tribal area on August 22. He was reportedly killed in a drone strike.
Rahman, a Libyan national, has been described as a chief organizer of Al-Qaeda operations and a key figure in establishing Al-Qaeda branches around the world.
Rahman, who rose up the Al-Qaeda hierarchy after the killing of Osama bin Laden in May, is credited with having helped form the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb with the help of Algerian and Islamic militants in 2007. More recently Rahman spoke about the uprisings in the Arab world, urging Al-Qaeda supporters to support rebellions in their countries even if they were not inspired by Islamic groups.
RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique, who covers Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Rahman also had a role in attacks on U.S. personnel in Afghanistan. “In the account that we know about, the December 2009 bombing of the CIA station in Khost, it seems that he [Rahman] was involved at some level in planning and pulling off that attack,” Siddique said.
Siddique said Rahman may also have been entrusted with carrying out more personal matters for bin Laden.
‘Al-Qaeda Is More Of An Ideology’
Muhammad Sa’ad, a former Pakistani army brigadier and now security analyst, told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that Rahman’s death will likely have an impact on Al-Qaeda but that the organization will survive without him.
“A prominent leader has capacity and abilities and when such a person dies it does impact an organization. There is no doubt about that. But an organization like Al-Qaeda is more of an ideology. To crush this ideology you have to come up with a counter ideology,” Sa’ad said.
Security analysts also point out that Rahman’s death may have an impact on Al-Qaeda’s immediate influence in North Africa.
A security analyst specializing in Al-Qaeda and jihadist activities, Rahimullah Yousufzai, said while it will be possible for Al-Qaeda to replace Rahman the choices for his replacement are few.
“When Osama Bin Laden was killed, everyone was expecting Ayman Al-Zawahiri to replace him as the head of Al-Qaeda. Some other important names also came into light. These included Atiyah abd Rahman, Saiful-Adil, and Abu Yahya Al-Laibi. These are the people left from Al-Qaeda’s senior leaders,” Yousufzai said.
“It is possible that one of these will replace Atiyah [Rahman]. We have to see. But I think Al-Qaeda has very little choice. There are very less [capable] people remaining.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said during a visit to Afghanistan last month that a strategic defeat of Al-Qaeda was possible if the United States and its allies could kill or capture some 20 remaining Al-Qaeda leaders Panetta said made up the core of the group.
Pakistani officials said on August 28 they could not confirm Rahman’s death. Pakistan usually does not comment on victims of U.S. drone strikes unless there are a high number of civilian casualties.