Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri is “just as dangerous” as Osama bin-Laden, experts warned on the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attack.
The jihadi leader has maintained alliances with extremist groups across Africa and the Middle East and is a “force to be reckoned with”, researchers said.
He took over the terror group after US Navy Seals shot dead his predecessor in Pakistan in May 2011 and has made only one appearance this year, in a video in May.
But Professor Colin Clarke and Dr Asfandyar Mir warned the chief, who has a $25m (£19.5m) bounty on his head – the world’s largest for a terrorist – has grown stronger while the US focused on rival terror group ISIS.
In a piece in foreignpolicy.com, they wrote: “While al Qaeda has not been able to replicate an assault like 9/11, that’s also a naive metric of success.
“Al Qaeda maintains affiliates in regions across Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.
“And though he’s conjured less of a personality cult, al Qaeda’s current leader is just as dangerous to the United States as its old one.
“For now, however, Zawahiri is still at al Qaeda’s helm—and this soft-spoken, moderate-mannered leader remains a force to be reckoned with, regardless of whether another 9/11-style attack is in the offing.”
Prof Clakre, of Carnegie Mellon University, and Stanford University’s Dr Mir added: “As U.S. strikes against the Islamic State intensified, the cohesion of al Qaeda’s affiliates and its allies improved.
“As the Islamic State stumbled after making initial inroads and then faced popular backlash, Zawahiri-directed al Qaeda affiliates presented themselves as a more palatable jihadi alternative.
“Perhaps Zawahiri’s most significant strategic victory is that he has managed to preserve al Qaeda’s relationship with the Afghan Taliban, which has survived despite enormous international and U.S. military pressure to cut ties.”