WASHINGTON — An alarming new video showing what appears to be a large gathering of al-Qaida operatives has emerged in western media.
The video shows, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), addressing more than 100 fighters in an unknown location, believed to be in Yemen.
WTOP has learned the gathering was most likely filmed between late-February and mid-March, during a post-prison break celebration.
The well-produced video, which shows a spirited gathering, features fight songs and al-Qaida flags waving. It also features a speech by al-Wuhayshi, who has publicly expressed his commitment to attacking the U.S.
The unsettling video has raised concerns, because it’s the first such gathering in the open by al-Qaida in years.
“The depiction of such a large gathering of fighters and the appearance of senior leaders are atypical of AQAP’s propaganda videos,” an U.S. official tells WTOP.
The convergence of several developments, including the video, has raised unprecedented concerns in Washington about U.S. security abroad and in the homeland.
“There’s more of a threat stream from al-Qaida today than we saw even before 9/11,” says Republican Congressman Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
The emergence of the video comes at a time of great angst in western intelligence agencies about terror attacks, because “there are tens of thousands of al-Qaida (fighters) pooling up in the east of Syria along the Iraqi border, now there are folks coming from Malaysia, the U.S., Europe, other Middle East countries. It is a huge and growing problem to the United States,” Rogers says.
The problem is compounded for the U.S. because hundreds of the fighters gathering and training in Syria are Americans, and experts believe they will return home, if they haven’t already.
In fact, Richard Barrett, former director of Global Counter Terrorism Operations for the British Intelligence Service says, “the greatest number of foreign fighters (in Syria) are from other Arab countries, in the Middle East and North Africa; and we’ve seen 300 people already go back to Saudi Arabia.”
But Barrett, currently vice president at the Soufan intelligence firm, indicates the U.S. and its allies may have a bigger problem on its hands.
“As for the west, there are so many people going back, they’ve swamped the capacities of authorities to monitor them and check what they are doing,” he says.
AQAP is widely believed to be the most dangerous of all of al-Qaida’s affiliates. It’s responsible for the attempt to bring down a Northwest Airlines jet on Christmas Day 2010, using a bomb built into the underwear of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
It’s also responsible for a cargo plane bomb plot, discovered on October 29, 2010, when two explosive-laden printer cartridges bound for the U.S. were discovered on cargo planes in Dubai and the United Kingdom.
U.S. intelligence officials were asked about the content of the video but declined because as a rule they are reluctant to discuss operational issues around their work with the media. In this case, there are concerns their comments would offer insights into methods the U.S. uses against AQAP.