A video showing al-Qaeda’s second-in-command addressing a crowd of more than one hundred Islamist militants in Yemen has United States officials worried that the group is gaining strength, potentially organizing to plot a new attack on the West.
In a video called “The Beginning of the Rain,” posted onto Youtube this month by the group Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) vice leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi is seen addressing a large congregation of Islamist militants in Yemen, in public and without any masks or attempts at hiding his identity.
According to The Washington Post, many of the individuals in the video are prisoners who recently escaped from a prison in the Yemeni capital Sana’a, to whom Wuhayshi reiterates the importance of attacking America. “We must eliminate the cross,” he says. “The bearer of that cross is America.”
NBC News reports that United States officials confirmed that many of those in the film are, indeed, the escaped prisoners of Sana’a, but could not verify exactly where the event occurred or whether United States officials were aware that it was occurring or intended to attack it. The Yemeni prisoners escaped in February after al-Qaeda attacked the prison, killing guards and freeing fourteen individuals. The video appears to show that the events transpired undisturbed, and the lack of interference seems to imply that no one in Western intelligence knew of or attempted to prevent the meeting.
One official told NBC News that such a large gathering, broadcast so widely in a video, was “atypical” of the splinter group AQAP, the largest al-Qaeda group still in existence in the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden. The CIA has told members of the media that they are examining the video “frame by frame” to reveal identities and attempt to find clues or messages that may indicate to radicals in other nations that they are to stage an attack.
Experts tell CNN that the video indeed shows an “emboldened” organization. U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told Wolf Blitzer that the meetings occur “more often than people realize,” and that the United States government would not make an immediate decision to order a drone strike on such a large group.
Al-Qaeda has increased its call for attacks on American soil in recent months. In the March issue of its lifestyle magazine, Inspire, the group instructed militants to attack specific cities and learn the craft of homemade car bombs. They followed up that feature story with an image specifically instructing readers to bomb San Francisco International Airport.