by Emily Engle
In early April, a video began appearing on jihadist websites depicting what may be the largest and most dangerous gathering of al-Qaeda members in open air that has been seen for years. The video showed multiple members at the gathering that had recently escaped from a Yemen prison, but the focus of the film was al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Nasir al-Wuhayshi. U.S. officials believe the video to be authentic.
Al-Wuhayshi appears openly on the video (while others remain masked), a huge risk because of his status as one of the group’s leaders. He is shown addressing over 100 other al-Qaeda fighters somewhere in Yemen, and at one point, he yells, “We must eliminate the cross…The bearer of the cross is America!” al-Wuhayshi has previously made many threats against the U.S., but usually does not allow himself to be so openly seen.
This year alone, the U.S. has executed 8 drone strikes in Yemen, yet the video clearly shows that the U.S. took no action that day. It is unclear how informed the CIA and Pentagon were of the meeting, as well as unclear how much advance warning they had, though they have previously killed many al-Qaeda leaders with drones. U.S. officials have declined to comment on why no attack was carried out.
One of the current major threats of al-Qaeda is a single member named Ibrahim al-Asiri, known for his ability to create undetectable bombs. He was speculated to be the leader behind several recent attack attempts against the U.S. Currently, though, al-Asiri is in hiding. He did not appear in the video.
U.S. officials are working to analyze the video, but not much has been deduced. The footage is similar to previous al-Qaeda videos from the late 1990s depicting Afghanistan training camps, but the film is atypical of the group’s other recent propaganda. Several faces in the video are blurred as well, raising fears that the blurring may conceal the identities of fighters involved in planned future attacks.
Al-Qaeda’s smaller affiliates have recently been growing in power as they make efforts to coalesce, but the entire group itself is increasing as a threat. As much is indicated by the video, which shows that the group is becoming only more emboldened.