The video of Ayman al-Zawahiri released on June 8 is most noteworthy for what he did not do. Despite being the official second-in-command of al-Qaeda, he did not declare, or even hint, that he is now the group’s official head. This indicates that Zawahiri is fearful of creating a fissure by asserting his authority, aware that the rank-and-file is not united behind him. It also means that the top leadership has been unable to communicate to decide on a successor, allowing contradictory reports that Zawahiri, Saif al-Adel, or Hamza bin Laden have taken the helm to spread confusion.
On June 9, a video apparently from al-Qaeda’s media arm made its way onto a jihadist forum. The tape announced that Hamza bin Laden, at only 21 years of age, was the new al-Qaeda chief. It was then deleted. He made his debut in a video in 2005 showing a battle between Pakistani forces and jihadists. An associate of Osama said in 2008 that Hamza was being groomed to replace his father. His escape from his father’s compound on May 1 is the type of story that jihadists crave in a leader. However, experienced terrorists won’t be enthusiastic about being led by a 21-year old who only became their leader because of his last name.