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The New Al-Qaeda Central

A soldier stands guard in North Waziristan, one of the Pakistani tribal areas near Afghanistan where al-Qaeda's core leadership is believed to have regrouped.
A soldier stands guard in North Waziristan, one of the Pakistani tribal areas near Afghanistan where al-Qaeda's core leadership is believed to have regrouped. (By John Moore -- Getty Images)

The only publicized success in the nearly 20 months since the Damadola attack came on April 12, 2006, when Muhsin Musa Matwalli Atwah, an Egyptian al-Qaeda operative indicted for involvement in the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa, was killed in North Waziristan.

Otherwise, the search for al-Qaeda's leaders in Pakistan has hit a wall. Shah said information concerning their whereabouts has grown scarcer and less reliable. By his account, Pakistani security officials haven't come across a single trace of bin Laden in the tribal areas. Occasionally, they have received tips regarding Zawahiri and others, he said, but only several weeks after the trail has run cold.

"We'd hear about their presence two months after the fact. It's just not actionable intelligence," Shah said. "This inner core has absolutely stopped using electronic technology to communicate with each other. That is why the Americans have such trouble finding them."

On Jan. 30, 2006, two weeks after the Damadola missile strike, al-Qaeda released a videotape on the Internet in which Zawahiri taunted his pursuers. "Bush, do you know where I am?" the Egyptian radical said. "I am among the Muslim masses!"

Al-Qaeda's 'Deep Bench'

A major factor in al-Qaeda's resurgence has been its ability to swiftly replace fallen or captured commanders.

CIA Director Michael V. Hayden told Congress in November that the core leadership had benefited from a "deep bench of lower-ranking personnel capable of stepping up to assume leadership responsibilities." Many are veteran jihadists who have fought in Afghanistan and conflicts elsewhere for decades.

Intelligence officials and analysts said al-Qaeda's central command remains dominated by Egyptians, primarily associates of Zawahiri, who formally merged his Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization with al-Qaeda in 1998.

One Egyptian who has taken on a bigger role is Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, an accountant by training who served as bin Laden's financial manager during his exile in Sudan in the 1990s. In May, al-Qaeda announced that Yazid had been appointed its overall leader in Afghanistan and liaison with the Taliban.

Yazid, 51, was an original member of al-Qaeda's Shura Council and served time in an Egyptian prison with Zawahiri in the early 1980s after both were convicted of participating in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

Although he disagreed with bin Laden over the Sept. 11 attacks -- calling them a tactical mistake that resulted in the Taliban's fall from power -- Yazid remains close to the Saudi emir and is trusted by other jihad groups, said Yasser al-Sirri, an Egyptian political exile and director of the London-based Islamic Observation Center.

"Bin Laden appointed him as a conciliatory figure," Sirri said in an interview. "It's because of his credibility. He gets along well with the Pashtuns, with the Taliban -- he gets along well with everybody."

Several other fresh faces in the leadership are former members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a now-defunct network that used to operate at arm's length from al-Qaeda.


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