Former CIA chief: Focus shifting to who will replace al Qaeda leader killed in US strike

A former leader of the CIA said Tuesday that the focus is already shifting to who will be the next leader of al Qaeda after death of its former head, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a U.S. strike.

Michael Morell, who served as acting director and deputy director of the CIA, said on “CBS Mornings” that the next leader could be someone younger and more dynamic than al-Zawahiri but “certainly” someone whom he influenced. 

Morell said al-Zawahiri was one of the most violent members of the terror group after his Egyptian organization merged with al Qaeda, which caused the latter to become more violent. 

“To the extent he’s mentored the next leader, that will tell you something about that person,” Morell said. 

A drone strike at a safe house where al-Zawahiri was staying in Kabul, Afghanistan, killed him over the weekend, President Biden confirmed in a speech on Monday. 

The U.S. originally invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and removed the Taliban from power because of its protection of al Qaeda following 9/11. 

Morell said another focus should be learning what the relationship between the United States and the Taliban with respect to al Qaeda looks like. He said he is interested to see if the U.S. will maintain its attention on Afghanistan as it has so far. 

He said al Qaeda has wanted to use Afghanistan to rebuild its capabilities, but the strike killing al-Zawahiri will make them concerned about their own security because the U.S. can reach them there. 

He said former President George W. Bush kept a chart of al Qaeda operatives responsible for 9/11 and would cross them off once they were captured or killed. He said al-Zawahiri was the last person on the list, which should bring “some degree of closure to those victims of 9/11.”