Sources: New Leaders Are Steering Al-Qaida

WASHINGTON -- With Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenants dead, captured or on the run, al-Qaida's operations are being directed by a handful of combat-hardened veterans.

U.S. and European intelligence sources identified six emerging leaders as key to running the terrorist network's global military and financial networks.

"The strength of the group is that they don't need centralized command and control," one U.S. intelligence official said. They "know what it is they want to do."

While the al-Qaida leadership prior to Sept. 11, 2001 had a ruling council, called a shura, the new leaders are less able to communicate and are spread around the world.

The new leaders are believed to have orchestrated a wave of recent terrorist plots against Western targets. The Oct. 12 bomb attack in Bali, the April 11 bombing of a Tunisian synagogue, the foiled suicide assaults on U.S. and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar, and a scheme earlier this year to blow up the U.S., British, Australian and Israeli embassies in Singapore have all been attributed to al-Qaida.

"It would be much easier if we had a more centralized structure to aim at," a senior U.S. official said. "Now, instead of a large, fixed target we have little moving targets all over the world, all armed and all dangerous. It is a much more difficult war to fight this way."

The following descriptions are based on interviews with U.S. and European intelligence analysts, U.S. law enforcement officials and terrorism experts.

Saif al-Adel: An Egyptian and a member of al-Qaida's "security committee" for several years, he is viewed as the new military leader for the remnants of al-Qaida and the Taliban in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah: Another Egyptian, he has become al-Qaida's chief financial officer, at least in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He arranged and paid for the travel of the al-Qaida operatives who planned the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa.

Abu Musab Zarqawi: A Jordanian, Zarqawi is trained in the use of poisons and toxins. "He is their highly mobile top operator and facilitator," a European source said. He was sentenced to death in absentia in Jordan for plotting to blow up a luxury hotel in Amman in January 2000.

Riduan Isamuddin: An Indonesian known as Hambali, he is al-Qaida's liaison to loose-knit radical Islamic groups in Southeast Asia. A veteran of the wars in Afghanistan, Isamuddin is believed to have plotted the recent, foiled attempts to attack the U.S., Israeli, British and Australian embassies in Singapore.

Tawfiq bin Atash: Known as Khallad, Atash is either Saudi or Yemeni, and is believed to have lost a leg in combat in Afghanistan. "This is a major-league killer who orchestrated the Cole attack and possibly the Africa bombings,'' a CIA officer wrote two months before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Rahim al-Nashri: A Yemeni often called al-Makki, he is described as Atash's "handler" within al-Qaida for the Cole attack. Al-Nashri was an owner of Al Mur Honey in Yemen, a company the United States has branded a terrorist financier.