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New al-Qaida Video Marks 9/11 Attacks, Urges Muslims to Fight US


FILE - This still image from video obtained Oct. 26, 2012, courtesy of the Site Intelligence Group, shows al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri speaking in a video, from an undisclosed location, released by al-Qaida’s media arm, as-Sahab.

FILE - This still image from video obtained Oct. 26, 2012, courtesy of the Site Intelligence Group, shows al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri speaking in a video, from an undisclosed location, released by al-Qaida’s media arm, as-Sahab.

Al-Qaida is calling on Muslims to join the terror group’s fight against the United States as it marks the 15th anniversary of the deadly September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In a video released Friday on the internet titled "The Defiers of Injustice," al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri said the 9/11 attacks "returned the balance" between Islam and what it called its materialistic Crusader enemies, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Zawahiri said the attacks reminded Muslims of their power and their "potential to deter aggression." He also noted ongoing racial disparities in the U.S. and urged black Americans to convert to Islam.

U.S. intelligence officials said they were aware of the video, though at least one official sought to downplay the significance, calling Zawahiri a "marginal figure" fighting for relevance.

The official also said that while al-Qaida still poses a threat to the United States, core al-Qaida has been "decimated," with its leaders preoccupied by internal squabbling.

Threat factor

Other members of the U.S. intelligence community have been less inclined to dismiss the threat from al-Qaida, however, even though it has been overshadowed by the Islamic State terror group.

FILE - U.S. National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and FBI Director James Comey (L-R) testify before a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 14, 2016.

FILE - U.S. National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and FBI Director James Comey (L-R) testify before a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 14, 2016.

During testimony before Congress this past July, National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen called al-Qaida and its affiliates "a principle counterterrorism priority."

"We would not tier our priorities in such a way that downgrades al-Qaida in favor of a greater focus on ISIL," he said in his written testimony, using an acronym for Islamic State. "When we are looking at the terrorism threats that we face as a nation, including to the homeland, al-Qaida still figures prominently."

Some U.S. counterterrorism officials also have voiced concern about al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen — al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — which has taken advantage of 16 months of civil war to solidify safe havens in several provinces.

U.S. Homeland Security officials also have warned that al-Qaida still has its sights set on more 9/11-style attacks, again using commercial airplanes to hit symbolic targets.

"Al-Qaida, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIL continue to see an attack on aviation as an important part of their strategy," the undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, Brigadier General Francis Taylor, said last month during a talk in Washington.

"[We] have clear indications that our enemies are trying to perfect ways of introducing explosives and other devices onto aircraft for the purpose of destroying them in midflight," he added.

Jabhat Fatah al-Sham

Other U.S. intelligence officials also remain concerned about Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, which recently formed out of what used to be known as Jabhat al-Nusra, the key al-Qaida affiliate in Syria.

While the new group has renounced its ties with al-Qaida, some intelligence officials and analysts remain skeptical the move was anything more than a stunt to shift public opinion.

Others point to al-Qaida’s ability to survive the onslaught it faced from Islamic State in Syria and elsewhere as a sign the terror organization is anything but decimated.

"Al-Qaida has emerged from this having survived the challenge [from IS] definitively," said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Lingering problem

He also said the new video from al-Qaida leader Zawahiri is neither "a sign of a collapsed organization" nor a sign of a group struggling for relevance.

"It’s the kind of thing you would expect," said Gartenstein-Ross.

"Underestimating these foes can lead to terrible errors in policy," he warned.

VOA’s Elizabeth Cherneff contributed to this story.

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