White House downplays rise of al Qaeda's Zawahiri

The White House is downplaying the abilities of al Qaeda's reported new leader, the No. 2 man behind Osama bin Laden.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the reported new head of the terrorist network, lacks the charisma and ability to inspire and unify extremists, officials said.

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A senior administration official noted that President Obama's counterterrorism chief John Brennan said the day after bin Laden was killed by American forces that Zawahiri is "not charismatic."

"He… was not involved in the fight earlier on in Afghanistan, so -- and I think he has a lot of detractors within the organization," Brennan said. "And I think you're going to see them start eating themselves from within more and more."

An administration official on Thursday painted a picture of a weak, untested new leader who has not "demonstrated strong leadership or organizational skills during his time in [al Qaeda] or previously while in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad."

The official said that Zawahiri's rise "will likely generate criticism if not alienation and dissention" within the ranks of the global terror network.

"No matter who is in charge, he will have a difficult time leading [al Qaeda] while focusing on his own survival as the group continues to hemorrhage key members responsible for planning and training operatives for terrorist attacks," the official said.

"The bottom line is that Zawahiri has nowhere near the credentials that [Osama bin Laden] had."