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Washington - If Washington succeeds in capturing or killing accused terrorist Osama bin Laden, his most likely successor will be a former Cairo surgeon suspected of playing a key role in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, reports say.
The New York Times reported on Monday that 50-year-old Ayman al-Zawahiri, formerly leader of the terrorist group Egyptian Islamic Jihad, is seen by many as the natural choice to follow Bin Laden at the helm of his Al Qaeda terrorist network.
Analysts said that al-Zawahiri could even prove to be a more formidable US foe than bin Laden.
"Al-Zawahiri's experience is much broader than even Bin Laden's," said Dia'a Rashwan, one of Egypt's top experts on militants.
"His name has come up in nearly every case involving Muslim extremists since the 1970s."
Al-Zawahiri's terrorist group joined in an alliance with Bin Laden's in 1998. After US cruise missiles flattened Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan that year, he phoned a Pakistani reporter on Bin Laden's behalf and warned: "The war has started. The Americans should wait for the answer."
Al-Zawahiri has not been seen in Egypt since 1986, when he packed up his office and departed for Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan and ultimately Afghanistan, where he is believed to share quarters with Bin Laden, the newspaper said.
He is also fugitive from justice: since 1999, al-Zawahiri has been listed as one of Egypt's most wanted men, after being blamed for the 1995 bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Pakistan and other acts of violence.
He was sentenced to death in absentia by an Egyptian court that year for activities linked to Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
In 1999, he was indicted by a New York federal grand jury for allegedly playing a role in the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. - Sapa-AFP