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Al-Zawahri tried and failed to bring the Egyptian Islamic Group, which was responsible for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, into al Qaeda in 2001. Documents captured from terrorist organizations disclose that leaders of the Egyptian Islamic Group rejected al-Zawahri’s pleas for them to join bin Laden’s ranks.

“I am very pleased by al Qaeda’s choice to replace bin Laden with Ayman Zawahri,” said Mary Habeck, a former specialist on political Islam for the National Security Council.

Zawahri has neither the strategic vision nor the organizational and people skills that bin Laden had. He has alienated many people in the jihadist movement, including a large number of Egyptian radicals,” said Ms. Habeck, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

Bruce Hoffman, director of the security studies program at Georgetown University, agreed that al-Zawahri lacks bin Laden’s charisma. But he said the new al Qaeda chief is also tougher than his predecessor in key ways.

“He formed his first terrorist cell as a teenager, graduated to the abject conditions of Egyptian prisons and lost his wife and son in a U.S. airstrike in November 2001,” Mr. Hoffman said. “For him, this struggle is both more personal and visceral, as well as political and religious. Zawahri mapped out al Qaeda’s strategy of survival in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and will now have sole responsibility for implementing it.”

The selection of al-Zawahri could suggest a larger shift in the group’s leadership away from its Saudi faction. Al Qaeda in some ways represents the merger of Gulf Arab and Egyptian radical Islam.

Bin Laden was a Saudi whose family came from Yemen. Al-Zawahri is an Egyptian and a follower of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian essayist who developed much of the political theory employed to this day by al Qaeda.