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Al-Qaida Chooses New Leader

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

But as NPR's Tom Gjelten reports, six weeks have passed since bin Laden was killed, and some experts wonder if the delay in naming a new leader means that Zawahiri faced some competition.

TOM GJELTEN: As the official number two, Zawahiri was set to take over Al-Qaida after bin Laden's death, but his selection had to be ratified by the group's leadership council. Zawahiri may even have felt the need to campaign for the position.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

AYMAN AL: (Foreign language spoken)

GJELTEN: In any case, Zawahiri does now have al-Qaida's official backing. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made that point today at the Pentagon.

ROBERT GATES: I think he's got some challenges, but I think it's a reminder that they are still out there, and we still need to keep after them.

GJELTEN: One question is whether Zawahiri will be a different kind of al-Qaida leader than bin Laden was. Terrorism expert Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution notes that he's more of an ideologue - writing books and making lots of public statements - whereas bin Laden kept a fairly low profile.

BRUCE RIEDEL: Zawahiri is probably someone we're going to hear from more. But while he is a thinker, it's a mistake to assume he's not also a doer. This is a man who's been involved in a lot of nasty terrorist planning. So he's willing to mix it up and get right in there. And I think it would be a mistake to underestimate this guy.

GJELTEN: Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.