Ayman al-Zawahiri's new gig as al-Qaeda's leader could actually spell trouble for the organization—most of all because he’s cantankerous. “He was arrogant, angry, and extreme in his ideas,” the son of Osama bin Laden's mentor, who met Zawahiri in the 1980s, tells the Washington Post. As Zawahiri rose to fame, “he fought with everyone, even those who agreed with him," says Huthaifa Azzam. The torture he endured decades ago in Egyptian prisons “affected his whole personality.” While he was respectful of Azzam's father in private, for example, the former surgeon derided him in public, says Azzam.
Zawahiri faces pressure to retaliate for Osama bin Laden’s death with a large-scale attack, but “the truth is, he doesn’t have the power to strike back," Azzam says. "Sept. 11 was carried out by highly motivated people in many different places. Zawahiri can’t pull together something like that.” What’s more, he’s in charge of a group that has become more disjointed as its reach has extended. “This is an organization that, for its entire history, has been centered around the persona of its leader,” says a US counterterror official. “It’s an open question whether Zawahiri will be able to maintain that level of personal leadership,” or whether al-Qaeda will become more dysfunctional and disloyal under his watch. But one terrorism analyst sees a way around this: "If he manages to pull off an operation, al-Qaeda will be back in business. We won’t be having these conversations about whether they’ll be loyal to him."