The Threat of New Al-Qaeda Leadership: The Case of Syria's Abu Mohammed Al-Joulani

The death of al-Qaeda’s general manager, Nasir al-Wahayshi, will likely disrupt al-Qaeda’s global operations until he is replaced. It is likely that al-Qaeda leader Aymen al-Zawahiri will nominate his replacement according to traditional leadership patterns, choosing, for example, a former companion of Osama bin Laden. It is dangerous but plausible, however, that Zawahiri will seek to maximize the influence of newer al-Qaeda leaders who have proven their qualifications on the battlefield in order to shepherd the reemergence of a reinvigorated and highly resilient global al-Qaeda organization with a leadership structure that is embedded within local affiliates. One possible candidate for future al-Qaeda leadership is Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, the leader of al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra. If al-Qaeda shifts away from its current reliance on a core cadre of eligible members for leadership, the U.S. must fundamentally adjust its current paradigm for limited counterterror operations in the effort to disrupt and eventually defeat al-Qaeda.