'We will hunt down and kill new Al Qaeda chief'
The United States has vowed to hunt down and kill new Al Qaeda 'emir' Ayman al-Zawahiri like it did in the case of his predecessor Osama bin Laden.
"He (Zawahiri) and his organisation still threaten us. As we did both seek to capture and kill and succeed in killing bin Laden, we certainly do or will do the same thing with Zawahiri," Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told media persons at a Pentagon news conference.
Mullen had on Thursday said he was not surprised by the news reports that Zawahiri, who is carrying a $25 million reward on his head, has succeeded bin Laden.
Al Qaeda has named al-Zawahiri as its new chief following the killing of long-time leader bin Laden by US commandos in May 2 raid in Pakistan.
In his last press conference as the Secretary of Defence, Gates said he is not sure it's a position anybody should aspire to be the Al Qaeda chief, under the circumstances."Bin Laden has been the leader of Al Qaeda, essentially since its inception. In that particular context, he had a peculiar charisma that I think Zawahiri does not have. I think he was much more operationally engaged than we have the sense Zawahiri has been," he said.
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Image: Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen speaks as he conducts a news briefing at the Pentagon
Photographs: Alex Wong/Getty Images
'Lines of communication through Pakistan are critical'
"We should be mindful that this announcement by Al-Qaeda reminds us that, despite having suffered a huge loss with the killing of bin Laden -- and a number of others -- Al Qaeda seeks to perpetuate itself, seeks to find replacements for those who have been killed, and remains committed to the agenda that bin Laden put before them," Gates said.
Gates expressed concern that Pakistan's nuclear weapons might fall into the hands of an awful lot of terrorists who are trying to seek the atomic technology.
Gates said that there is some indication that Al Qaeda is worried because of the way the US went after bin Laden, their suspicion is that the Pakistanis may have been involved in it and are worried that the Pakistanis may betray them, as well.
US President Barack Obama has said he was confident about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal although he was "gravely concerned" about the situation there. There is a growing concern among US officials that militants might try to snatch a nuclear weapon or infiltrate sympathisers into atomic facilities.
"Clearly, the lines of communication through Pakistan are critical for our operations in Afghanistan. So I think all of these things are important. Just in terms of regional stability, there is the reality that Pakistan is a country that has a number of nuclear weapons. And, again, keeping those lines of communication open, it seems to me, is very important," Gates said in his final news conference at the Defence Secretary.
Image: Secretary of Defence Robert Gates pauses as he conducts a news briefing at the Pentagon