A large contingent of al-Qaeda fighters were videotaped meeting in the Yemen desert for a conclave aimed at strategizing for the future and rallying their ranks.
The video of the rendezvous, which was released onto Jihadi web forums and screened on CNN this week, shows a large group of armed men seemingly unconcerned by the possibility that they might be targeted from the air.
Many of the terror group’s leadership in Yemen have been targeted by American drones, making the meeting, with a number of high-ranking terrorists, all the more extraordinary.
In the video, the fighters are greeted by the man considered al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, according to a CNN report. Although some of the more than 100 al-Qaeda operatives in the video kept their faces covered, Wuhayshi is clearly seen as he addresses the men. The footage was edited in places to blur out the faces of some of those present, to hide their identities.
As he speaks to the gathering, Wuhayshi is seen labeling the US as a target for destruction.
“We must eliminate the cross,” he said. “The bearer of the cross is America!”
The video closes with a message reading “Aqsa we are coming,” likely a reference to Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, considered the third holiest site in Islam.
US security officials, including the CIA, declined to comment on whether they knew of the meeting at the time it took place, the Washington Post reported. However, the paper said that officials believe it to be authentic and recent and are scrutinizing the footage for information about the terror group.
US Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN that is not unusual for al-Qaeda to hold such a large meeting and that even if the US did know about the gathering it is not a forgone conclusion that it would have launched a strike.
“I think they have these meetings more often than people realize,” Rogers said. “It’s difficult to get assets in position. You have to know where they are and where they meet at the right time in the right place with the right equipment. That’s a lot to do.”