By HAMZA HENDAWI
CAIRO — Al-Qaida has selected its longtime No. 2 to succeed Osama bin Laden following last month’s U.S. commando raid that killed the terror leader, according to a statement posted Thursday on a website affiliated with the network.
Ayman al-Zawahri, who will turn 60 next week, is believed to be operating from somewhere near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
He is the son of an upper middle class Egyptian family of doctors and scholars. His father was a pharmacology professor at Cairo University’s medical school and his grandfather was the grand imam of Al-Azhar University, a premier center of religious study.
In a videotaped eulogy released earlier this month, al-Zawahri warned that America faces not individual terrorists or groups but an international community of Muslims that seek to destroy it and its allies.
“Today, praise God, America is not facing an individual, a group or a faction,” he said, wearing a white robe and turban with an assault rifle leaned on a wall behind him. “It is facing a nation than is in revolt, having risen from its lethargy to a renaissance of jihad.”
Al-Zawahri also heaped praise on bin Laden, who was killed in a May 2 raid by U.S. Navy SEALs in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad, and criticized the U.S. for burying him at sea.
“He went to his God as a martyr, the man who terrified America while alive and terrifies it in death, so much so that they trembled at the idea of his having tomb,” he said.
Al-Qaida gave no details about the selection process for bin Laden’s successor but said that it was the best tribute to the memory of its “martyrs.”
The statement announcing al-Zawahri’s succession was filled with the terror network’s usual rhetoric, vowing to continue the fight against what it called “conquering infidels, led by America and its stooge Israel, who attack the homes of Islam.”
The group also said it will never accept Israel’s legitimacy and will continue to support Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and North Africa.
The al-Qaida statement also stated the group’s support for this year’s popular uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria and Libya.
“We encourage the people of Islam to rise up and continue the struggle, persistence and devotion until all the corrupt and oppressive regimes imposed by the West are gone,” it said.