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Al-Zawahri becomes al Qaida leader

Osama bin Laden's long-time deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, a fiery ideologue who is known for his deep hatred of the West and helped plan the 9/11 attacks, has taken control of al Qaida.

Bin Laden, the terror network's founder, was killed by US special forces in a raid on his Pakistan hideout last month.

Al-Zawahri, an Egyptian-born surgeon, has been credited with bringing tactical and organisational cunning to al Qaida.

The terror network has found itself increasingly decentralised and prone to internal disputes following its expulsion from Afghanistan after the 2001 US invasion. The move also comes at a time the group is struggling for relevance as a wave of Arab uprisings has threatened to leave it marginalised.

Al-Zawahri pledged earlier this month to avenge the May 2 killing of bin Laden, and to continue the campaign of attacks against the US and other Western interests.

"The general command of al Qaida, after completing consultations, decided that the sheik doctor Abu Mohammed Ayman al-Zawahri take the responsibility and be in charge of the group," said a statement purportedly by al Qaida and posted on militant websites, including several known to be affiliated with the group.

Al Qaida gave no details about the selection process but said that it was the best tribute to the memory of its "martyrs".

Al-Zawahri, who turns 60 on Sunday and has a 25 million US dollar (£16 million) bounty on his head, has been behind the use of suicide bombings and the independent militant cells that have become the network's trademarks. But US intelligence officials have said that some al Qaida members find al-Zawahri to be a controlling micromanager who lacks bin Laden's populist appeal.

He also faces significant challenges in promoting al Qaida's agenda of a religiously led state spanning the Muslim world after finding itself sidelined in the wake of popular revolts that have been driven by aspirations for Western-style democracy instead.

Al-Zawahri has been in hiding for nearly 10 years and is widely believed to be near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He has appeared in dozens of videos and audiotapes in recent years, increasingly becoming the face of al Qaida as bin Laden kept a lower profile.

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