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Friday, July 28, 2006

Zawahiri Video Could Provide Clues To An Attack

By J.M. Berger

The latest video from top al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri contains unusual stylistic features which may point to an imminent attack.

Typically, videos from Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden since September 11 are filmed against a neutral backdrop, usually a brown blanket or black screen designed to provide little clue as to their whereabouts.

In the latest release by al Qaeda's As-Sahab media relations branch, however, Zawahiri appears before a backdrop with three elements - a photograph of deceased al Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef, a photo of the World Trade Center attack, and a previously unseen photograph of Mohammed Atta, operational leader of the September 11 hijackers.

The scene is reminiscent of a 1998 video of Osama bin Laden which featured the al Qaeda leader posing in front of a map featuring East Africa. Just a few months later, al Qaeda bombed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Similarly, a video released before the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in a Yemeni harbor featured bin Laden wearing a ceremonial Yemeni dagger.

If Zawahiri's video is warning of an attack, it would seem to be related to Egypt. Both Atef and Atta are Egyptian. Alternatively, both men's names begin with "A," possibly suggesting some other component of an attack (such as American Airlines, speaking purely speculatively). Both men are dead, perhaps suggesting a martyrdom operation.

Or perhaps it means nothing at all. The new visuals are extremely sophisticated, in keeping with a recent and notable upgrade in as-Sahab's production values. Since "Azzam the American" (California native Adam Gadahn) joined as-Sahab, the media company's productions have become notably more professional.

The addition of these graphics could simply represent a stylistic flourish. However, the choice of Atef -- and the release of a new picture of Atta -- are not especially consistent with the topic of the speech, the crisis between Israel and Hezbollah, although Zawahiri does tell an anecdote featuring both men.

The choice of Palestinian Abdullah Azzam, for instance, would seem more apropos (and maintain the "A" theme). There are many options. The choice of two Egyptians seems to demand closer examination.


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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