Focus switches to hunt for bin Laden successor

The United States has already switched its focus to finding Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahiri, the former number two and likely successor to Osama bin Laden.

Intelligence experts are hunting for clues as to his whereabouts in the trove of digital data seized from the lair where the former al-Qaeda leader was killed this week.

Eric Holder, the US Attorney-General, confirmed the seized materials - including five computers, 10 hard drives and scores of DVDs and thumb drives - were being analysed by experts. They were also scouring for information on any pending attacks on the US.

Testifying on Capitol Hill, Holder warned of the risk of short-term retaliation from al-Qaeda and said he had issued warnings to top law officials across the US to ensure the utmost vigilance. He also pushed back against suggestions that the navy Seals may have erred in executing bin Laden even though he had no gun, and said the killing "was an act of national self-defence".

"The operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed was lawful," Holder said.

"He was the head of al-Qaeda, an organisation that had conducted the attacks of September 11. He admitted his involvement."

Al-Zawahiri is now America's most wanted criminal. He is expected to stay as close to the ground as possible.

Analysts in the US noted, however, that if he is to be accepted as the new head of al-Qaeda and its multiple splinter groups, he will have to find a way fairly soon to assert his authority and that will mean putting his head over the parapet.

A possible rival could be Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born jihadist cleric who heads al-Qaeda in Yemen.

"Zawahiri will be very careful of his personal security, but he needs to consolidate his position; he needs to be out there,"said Daniel Byman, a counterterrorism expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"In his new capacity he needs to meet and communicate, and then he's vulnerable."

The seized digital materials may also help the US answer a question that was asked almost immediately news of bin Laden's demise broke: did anyone in the Pakistani Government know of his whereabouts and even abet him in remaining in his compound in the garrison town of Abbottabad?

Pakistan tried yesterday to spread the blame for what appears to have been a mighty intelligence foul-up.

"There is an intelligence failure of the whole world, not just Pakistan alone," Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told reporters in Paris. "[If there are] lapses from the Pakistan side, that means there are lapses from the whole world."

- INDEPENDENT

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 01 Oct 2014 06:09:46 Processing Time: 530ms