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U.S. counterterrorism official: Zawahiri now leader of al Qaeda

By Carol Cratty, CNN Senior Producer
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. official says the only surprise is that it has taken this long for al Qaeda to announce a leader
  • U.S. counterterrorism strategy unlikely to change, says official

Washington (CNN) -- A U.S. counterterrorism official said Thursday the United States believes Ayman al-Zawahiri is now the leader of al Qaeda.

"This is not at all surprising. He had been the number two. It was surprising it took a couple of days for al Qaeda to acknowledge (Osama) bin Laden's death and this long to say Zawahiri is the new leader," the official said.

The official noted that al Qaeda members had pledged their loyalty to bin Laden and said the United States does not know if the same has been done for al-Zawahiri.

Asked if the United States is any closer to finding al-Zawahiri as a result of the information obtained at bin Laden's compound or from leads resulting from the recent Zawahiri videotaped message about bin Laden's death, the official would not comment except to say, "Obviously he has been and will continue to be of high interest."

Asked now that al-Zawahiri is in charge will there be changes in the U.S. counterterrorism strategy, the official said probably not. He's someone they know a lot about and have been pursuing for a long time.

 
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