The latest video to surface from al-Qaeda clearly shows that taking down the United States is still a number one priority for the terror network, American officials and experts said Wednesday.
"The rhetoric captured in the recent video indicates that striking America remains at the top of the group's agenda," a U.S. counter-terrorism official told NBC News Wednesday.
The video in question surfaced earlier this month on jihadi chat rooms. It was released by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula sometime after a massive prison bust in Sana, Yemen, that freed 29 jailed militants — but didn't receive much attention until Tuesday.
The 15-minute video, posted on YouTube by the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), shows dozens of militants, including those who escaped from prison, being greeted by al-Qaeda’s number two in command, Nasir al-Wuhayshi.
"Quite frankly, our concern was already incredibly high."
In the video, al-Wuhayshi makes reference to other prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Saudi Arabia and Israel, according to Veryan Khan, Editorial Director of TRAC.
And at one point al-Wuhayshi says, "The journey of jihad continues ... We must bring down our enemies, we must eliminate the cross, and the bearer of the cross is America," according to Khan.
He also says, "The Crusader enemy, dear brothers, still possesses cards which he moves around. We have to remember that we are always fighting the biggest enemy.”
Khan noted that AQAP’s leaders promised to free the prisoners last year, so now that they've made good on the promise, it was an occasion for a celebration. In the video the militants can be seen enjoying food and drink as well as speeches, in a somewhat festive atmosphere.
"Yes, it probably was the largest gathering we know of AQAP in Yemen to date,” said Khan, “but at the same time (the U.S. military) couldn't have at the drop of a hat sent some drones out and killed them."
U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News that the video seems recent and authentic, and it is being examined by intelligence analysts. They also confirmed that it shows recently escaped militants meeting al-Wuhayshi. Khan said that TRAC analysts believe the video was filmed in Yemen between the middle of February and late March.
While AQAP has focused much of its attention on Yemeni targets and local kidnappings, experts warn that they are one of the biggest threats to U.S. interests at home and abroad.
"Its deadliest operations have targeted Yemeni military installations and other government sites. At the same time, we remain concerned that the group is pursuing Western, to include U.S., interests in Yemen," said the U.S. counter-terrorism official.
"AQAP is the strongest franchise right now,” said Khan, who specializes in jihadi groups and analyzes thousands of factions for TRAC.
Still, NBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann pointed out that the video is basically just more of the same rhetoric al-Qaeda has repeated for years.
"You have to remember when watching this, this is propaganda that was designed to be released and they intended this to reach Western media and Western officials, said Kohlmann. “You have to take it with a grain of salt."
"Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the strongest franchise right now."
U.S. State Department spokeswoman said in response to the video that it was "in no way breaking news that AQAP is a significant threat to the United States, the people of Yemen, to other people in the region and around the world."
Since 2009, the group had made several attempts to attack the United States and had carried out a number of attacks inside Yemen, Deputy Spokesperson for the State Department Marie Harf told a regular briefing Wednesday.
"I don't think we can make generalizations about their strength based on one video, quite frankly. We know they've been gaining in strength. ... So, I don't think this increases our concern, because quite frankly, our concern was already incredibly high."
First published April 16 2014, 3:44 PM