US says Iran-based jihadist Saif al-Adel is new chief of Al-Qaeda

Saif al-Adel, Al-Qaeda's likely new leader. (Combatting Terrorism Center, USMA via Wikipedia)
Saif al-Adel, Al-Qaeda's likely new leader. (Combatting Terrorism Center, USMA via Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON — Saif al-Adel, an Iran-based Egyptian, has become the head of Al-Qaeda following the July 2022 death of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the US State Department says.

“Our assessment aligns with that of the UN — that Al-Qaeda’s new de facto leader Saif al-Adel is based in Iran,” a state department spokesperson says.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian responds by denouncing Washington for publishing “misinformation about the leader of Al-Qaeda,” and dismissing the link to his country as “laughable.”

“The creators of Al-Qaeda and ISIS [the Islamic State group] are responsible for the growth of terrorism around the world” he tweets, alluding to the United States.

A United Nations report released Tuesday said that the predominant view of member states is that Adel is now the group’s leader, “representing continuity for now.”

But the group has not formally declared him “emir” because of sensitivity to the concerns of the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan, who haven’t wanted to acknowledge that Zawahiri was killed by a US rocket in a home in Kabul last year, according to the UN report.

In addition, the UN report said, the Sunni Islamist Al-Qaeda is sensitive to the issue of Adel residing in largely Shiite Iran.

Adel, 62, is a former Egyptian special forces lieutenant colonel and figure in the old guard of Al-Qaeda.

He helped build the group’s operational capacity and trained some of the hijackers who took part in the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States, according to the US Counter Extremism Project.

He has been in Iran since 2002 or 2003, at first under house arrest but later free enough to make trips to Pakistan, according to Ali Soufan, a former FBI counter-terrorism investigator.

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