How many Al-Qaeda number twos are there?
October 12, 2005 10:11 AM   Subscribe

How many Al-Qaeda number twos are there?

It seems like every couple of months or so, I read an article about Al Qaeda's number two being killed or captured. Sometimes it's Ayman al-Zawahiri, recently it's been Abdallah Mohammad al-Juhaari. Are there more? Are there different ranks of number two? And how do we keep killing the same guy over and over again?

Have I missed something?
posted by Optimus Chyme to Law & Government (26 answers total)
As number two gets killed, number three moves up in the ranks? Or otherwise "number two" is just any al-qaedian that's not Osama. Or these people are partly called number two by the US government because they want to convey that they know a lot about the organisational structure of Al Qaeda.
posted by Skyanth at 10:20 AM on October 12, 2005

I'm guessing it's just that someone else moves into the "number two" position. After all, if Dick Cheney were to die, someone would take this place (and thus be considered a "number two man" of sorts for the US).
Whether the al Qaeda "number two" is actually second-in-command, or someone in the US gov't just decides to call someone that, I don't know.
posted by Godbert at 10:25 AM on October 12, 2005

Something tells me bin Laden hasn't sat down with Visio and done out a formal org chart for Al-Qaeda. That's poor project management skills right there.

Seriously, though, I think it's either what Skyanth states (promotions in the military come after bloody battles), or it's an organization that has a "tier" level below Osama, where those folks, including al-Zawahiri and al-Juhaari are peers.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 10:26 AM on October 12, 2005

So al-Juhaari and al-Zawahiri are both number two? That makes for nice press releases, I guess, but it's a little confusing.

Are there other number twos (numbers two?) that I missed?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:32 AM on October 12, 2005

I assume the government just calls them that to make it sound like we're achieving something the War on Terror. After all, rank is not a reliable indicator of power or influence -- just look at Karl Rove.
posted by junkbox at 10:37 AM on October 12, 2005

I beleive there are as many "number twos" as the administration needs. Considering they can't actually complete any goals legitimately, it's all just canned PR material to try and make it seem like they're actually doing something. Flavor of the week, if you will.
posted by prostyle at 10:38 AM on October 12, 2005

What NotMyselfRightNow said...bin Laden should read this thread. You could potentially have a huge number of undersecretaries here.
posted by johngoren at 10:40 AM on October 12, 2005

As I understand it, Dr. Zawahiri (the guy that's always next to bin Laden in his video messages) is the operational leader of al Qaeda and bin Laden is more of the idea man. Zawahiri is the Steve Ballmer to bin Laden's Gates.
posted by spork at 10:43 AM on October 12, 2005

Zawahiri is the Steve Ballmer to bin Laden's Gates.

Then why is al-Juhaari number two all of a sudden? Are there any other examples you can find of multiple number twos? I've done a lot of searching on Google but the results are skewed because of recent events. I wish I had started tracking these guys years ago.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:59 AM on October 12, 2005

Perhaps Al-Qaeda is vulnerable to title-inflation just as most companies are. In my office of 150 people, over 40 are VPs. So bin Laden probably has a bunch of number 1.5s, number 2s and number 2.5s all working for him.
posted by randomstriker at 11:02 AM on October 12, 2005

Bit of a conflation here: there have been a few purported "Al Qaeda number threes" captured or killed, below the (well-known) top two. There have also been a few purported "senior deputies/lieutenants to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi" captured or killed in Iraq.

In both cases, the place on the organisational chart is usually declared after-the-fact, based on sketchy evidence. That's to say, there's a fairly well established #1/#2 in Al-Q proper, and a fairly well-established #1 for 'Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia'. Below that, it's speculation, and somewhat beside the point, given what's known about operations.
posted by holgate at 11:24 AM on October 12, 2005

Chavez? :P
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:24 AM on October 12, 2005

Remember on The Prisoner, #2 was different from one episode to the next? They take turns.
posted by mischief at 11:28 AM on October 12, 2005

Look, in a propaganda war, you have to understand that everyone can be a top lieutenant, after they're dead. (That link, for you lazy people who won't click through, notes 33 top lieutenants within the past 2.5 years).

Basically, when you get killed, you get promoted to number 2 by the U.S. government. It's posthumous, you see. Like the Medal of Honor. And chocolate ration increases.

When even Newsweek is saying you're lying, you know you've got a credibility problem.

Even discussing this is missing the point though. There are 25 million Iraqis. All of them, give or take a few, now hate the U.S. with a passion. As long as there's one man to hold up a banner saying "Sign up here to fight the U.S.", there will never be a shortage of recruits, never never never.
posted by jellicle at 11:44 AM on October 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

It really depends on how many scandals the Bush administration need to move off the front page that day. There is no Al-Qaeda, it's a name that was made up by the CIA to lump together all the hundreds of unrelated anti-American pro-Islam extremist groups that commit terrorism.
posted by any major dude at 12:16 PM on October 12, 2005

Jellicle: yes. That is exactly what I was looking for!
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:18 PM on October 12, 2005

Little-known fact: Osama bin Laden is a big Joe Jackson fan, and he also loves Austin Powers (except for Goldmember, of course).
posted by kirkaracha at 12:23 PM on October 12, 2005

The real question is, who does number two work for?
posted by UncleHornHead at 1:37 PM on October 12, 2005

Zawahri has been the "Number Two" guy since the start. He's also considered the brains behind Osama's charismatic leadership. He has been for years upon years. When he is captured or killed, we will have al-Qaeda's #2 man, and there will be another.

Any other "Number Two" reference is scatological. Bush means to say they captured one of Osama's crap boys. It's a propaganda fight, especially since the capture of bin Laden would be a horrible thing for us. Sure, we'd have him, but he'd be defiant to the end. The American people want his blood, and that'd make him exactly what he wants to be, a martyr.

Really, it's just hyperbole aimed at making the average American feel good. Liberal or neocon, anyone with a firm grasp on the situation understands that in a war of ideology like this, there are no major victories, simply attrition.
posted by Saydur at 2:38 PM on October 12, 2005

I think that the labels one and two are more about identifying their value as a target to the western powers. Bin Laden is supposed to be #1, at the top of everyone's 'capture or kill' list, and troublemakers like al-Zawahiri and his ilk are secondary priority.

Of course, I suspect more money is being spent on al-Zawahiri than on bin Laden, so maybe it's just a PR thing after all.
posted by Ritchie at 2:41 PM on October 12, 2005

I wish I had started tracking these guys years ago.

You're not the only one!
posted by wilful at 4:26 PM on October 12, 2005

Any questions?

Mike Luckovich
posted by Wet Spot at 5:21 PM on October 12, 2005

Actually, in the Newsweek article linked above, Bush is quoted as calling Abu Azzam the "second-most-wanted Al Qaeda leader in Iraq." What that probably means is this: Bin Laden is the one they want most; he's number 1. Who's number 2? Some guy they can actually catch. It doesn't really matter who that is; since none of us have been collecting the Topps Al-Queda cards, we don't know who any of these guys are anyway.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:11 PM on October 12, 2005

This has been, I feel, my most informatively answered AskMe question to date. Deep and serious thanks to all participants. :)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:55 PM on October 12, 2005

There is no Al-Qaeda, it's a name that was made up by the CIA to lump together all the hundreds of unrelated anti-American pro-Islam extremist groups that commit terrorism.

Do you really believe that? If so, what possible foundation for that belief could you have, other than conjectural extrapolation from a justifiable distrust of our government?

It's a matter of Occam's razor; why wouldn't there be one terror organization that's larger and better-connected than the others? Isn't this more credible than the idea that the CIA would be able to completely cover up its non-existence just to create a strawman?
posted by musicinmybrain at 9:25 PM on October 12, 2005

Zawahiri is No. 2, notionally, because he was the leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was a separate organization (responsible for e.g. assassinating Sadat). Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda publicly "merged" around 1997.

That said there have been a number of others identified as a "No. 2" such as money men and operations planners. That's inflationary IMHO; only Zawahiri has the influence and public face to speak in bin Laden's name.
posted by dhartung at 1:19 AM on October 15, 2005

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