- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Internal divisions between Saudi and Egyptian leaders of al Qaeda are producing “fissures” within the terrorist group and a possible battle over who will succeed Osama bin Laden, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

Mr. Hayden, an Air Force general, also said that al Qaeda regrouped in the past two years inside tribal areas of Pakistan and linked up with Pashtun regional extremists in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

Bin Laden is now an “iconic” figure hiding in the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Hayden said in a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

“And frankly, then, we think there has been an awful lot of jockeying” among possible successors, Mr. Hayden said.

“Keep in mind, he’s a Saudi. An awful lot of that leadership is Egyptian. If the Saudi dies, who becomes the next guy may be quite a contentious matter,” he said.

“And there are fissures in al Qaeda because of this dominance of Egyptians inside the senior leadership, where you have a Saudi at the top,” Mr. Hayden said during a meeting at CIA headquarters in McLean. “You can only imagine what then happens if he goes and then who comes in.”

On interrogation techniques, Mr. Hayden said he favors allowing the use of CIA officers to conduct harsh questioning using actions that are not spelled out in the latest Army Field Manual.

The latest Army Field Manual limits the use of force, but Mr. Hayden said, “The Army Field Manual does not exhaust the universe of lawful interrogation techniques.”

Mr. Hayden said he does not know whether Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, will take over the group if bin Laden dies.

Terrorism specialists said the Sunni extremist al Qaeda group relies on Saudi Islamists to provide ideological and financial support, while Egyptians, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, supply practical expertise related to terrorist attacks and other organizational and operational skills.

An intelligence official said there are signs of “tensions” inside al Qaeda, which are being watched closely, especially related to succession. Bin Laden is Saudi and many senior leaders are Egyptian, but many of the extremist foot soldiers are Central Asian.

Al Qaeda successfully regrouped in tribal areas of Pakistan after a 2006 agreement between Pakistan’s government and tribal leaders.

Mr. Hayden said CIA operations officers are working aggressively to locate, capture or kill bin Laden, who ordered the September 11 terrorist attacks. U.S. military and government agents are working to “create the opportunity” to get bin Laden.

Asked whether bin Laden is alive, Mr. Hayden said: “We have … no evidence he’s not. And frankly, we think there would be evidence. … Given the iconic stature, his death would cause a little more than a wake in the harbor.”

Bin Laden’s efforts to avoid capture have limited his role in al Qaeda’s operations, Mr. Hayden said.

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