Nightly News   |  August 06, 2013

Al Qaeda at war with US-backed Yemeni government

NBC News has learned al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered his Yemeni leader to carry out an attack that would “change the balance of power in the Middle East.” NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> now to new developments involving the terrorism threat that led to a worldwide travel alert for americans and the closing of u.s. embassies across the muslim world . tonight the u.s. has evacuated nearly 100 americans from yemen and the u.s. is it urging all americans to leave immediately because of an extremely high threat of a terrorist attack . we get our report tonight from our chief foreign correspondent richard engel .

>> the u.s. military called it a nonemergency evacuation. an air force c-17 carrying 100 nonessential embassy personnel out of yemen .

>> the decision and announcement is based on a response to an immediate specific threat.

>> reporter: but what threat? nbc news has learned al qaeda 's chief ordered his yemeni leader to carry out an attack that would change the balance of power in the middle east . no details, but it could mean a key assassination. an attack on a drone base or multiple attacks. and the group has the capability. when we were last in yemen , we travelled to the tribal areas with a heavy military escort. for an entire year, al qaeda and its allies carved out a mini- mini-state in this part of yemen . and this soccer stadium was its headquarters. it was here they carried out crucifixions with their enemies. we saw houses villagers claimed were leveled by american drones. there was another such drone strike today. we were looking for al qaeda 's top bomb maker, ibrahim al asiri. he was behind the printer cartridge bomb sent to chicago, the underwear bomb sent to detroit. he's working on a bomb surgically implanted inside an attacker. already tested on dogs. his goal to bring down a plane bound for the u.s. senator john mccain speaking to us in cairo today.

>> we now know that al qaeda isn't nearly as splintered as we had believed in the past. they can still take orders from leadersh leadership. and they're awfully smart people .

>> reporter: smart and aggressive. a small group with big ambitions, richard engel , nbc news, cairo.