Nonetheless, Mr. Boucek said, the deaths of al-Awlaki and his fellow American AQAP jihadist Samir Khan would be the death knell for al Qaeda’s online magazine Inspire, seven editions of which have been produced by the network’s Yemeni affiliate.
“Inspire is dead,” he said. “They were the brains behind it. Samir Kahn did the layout. … There was a third editor, but no one knows who he is, or even if he is real rather than just a pen name.”
Globally, al Qaeda has only a handful of native English speakers among its spokesmen, according to researchers who have studied the network’s propaganda activities.
Most agree that having the aging and decidedly uncharismatic Ayman al-Zawahri as its public face would not help the terrorism network’s recruitment efforts. Al-Zawahri took charge of the global network after bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid in Pakistan in May.
Yet, as heavy a blow as al-Awlaki’s death may be to al Qaeda’s global network, it is unclear what impact it will have on Yemen’s deteriorating security. AQAP is based in Yemen, where U.S. and Yemeni forces have conducted operations against the terrorist group.
Earlier this year, before the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolt in Yemen, counterterrorism consultant Andrew Garfield worked on a study of public opinion and its impact on security in that country.
“We found, basically, that [perceived] U.S. support for [Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah] Saleh was actually bolstering Yemeni support for AQAP, because he is so unpopular,” Mr. Garfield said.
He said that AQAP had learned “the lesson of Iraq” - in which extremists had alienated other forces opposed to the U.S. occupation, instead of working with them.
“Most people in Yemen are not natural supporters of AQAP,” he said, adding they would make common cause with the terrorist group against a hated mutual enemy - Mr. Saleh.
Mr. Garfield said he doubted that most Yemenis are aware that the United States had called on Mr. Saleh to step down. “What they see is Saleh comes back, and then a U.S. strike kills these leaders … the timing is unfortunate,” he said.