After Osama Bin Laden, America's New Most Wanted

Al Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri now tops FBI most wanted in bounty.

ByABC News
May 4, 2011, 1:26 PM

May 4, 2011 — -- Job one for intelligence analysts searching the "motherlode" of information grabbed from Osama Bin Laden's lair is finding any plans for imminent al Qaeda terror attacks.

But after attack plans, what U.S. authorities want to know is the whereabouts of Bin Laden's top deputies, especially the man who now could inherit the dual titles of al Qaeda's leader and America's most wanted terrorist -- Ayman al-Zawahiri.

"After attack plans," said former White House counterterrorism advisor and ABC News consultant Richard Clarke, "[they're looking for] the location of [Bin Laden's] deputies ... where the money is, where the money comes from, where does it live, and how big an organization is al Qaeda central these days?"

Though the FBI said it does not rank its most wanted beyond their presence in the top ten, the U.S. government is offering $25 million for information leading to the capture of the man it believes has been al Qaeda's true commander for several years – millions more than anyone else on the list.

Zawahiri, an Egyptian born doctor who turns 60 next month, helped found al Qaeda with bin Laden, merging bin Laden's group with his own Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Together they issued a fatwa in 1998, believed to have been authored by Zawahiri, called "World Islamic Front Against Jews and Crusaders," and also called a general meeting of al Qaeda.

Their shared career of terror began with the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania later that year, and continued with the USS Cole attack of 2000 and then 9/11. Zawahiri is under indictment in the U.S. for the embassy attacks.

In April 2009, the U.S. State Department said that it believed that bin Laden had become a spiritual figurehead within al Qaeda, and that Zawahiri, known as "The Doctor" or "The Teacher," was the group's true operational and strategic leader. Examination of the materials found in Bin Laden's Abbottabad hideout will show whether U.S. officials had it right. "Prior to the attack, CIA's impression was that Bin Laden was a passive manager who occasionally received reports," said Clarke. "We'll know better whether that was accurate when we see what was in the documents and on his hard drive."

A senior Pakistani official told ABC News Wednesday that Pakistan's intelligence agency, ISI, continues to believe that bin Laden had not been operationally involved with al Qaeda for some time.

Zawarhiri is still thought to be hiding near the Afghan-Pakistan border. Bin Laden was often said to be living in the same region, though when he was killed in a raid Sunday, Bin Laden had actually been holed up less than 100 miles from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, right next to Pakistani military installations and the country's top military academy, for as long as six years.