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POLITICS: PennAve

State Department: Hard to discern al Qaeda strength from 'one video'

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Politics,White House,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Terrorism,State Department,al Qaeda,Yemen

A State Department spokeswoman declined to make “generalizations” about al Qaeda's strength based on a new video that surfaced Tuesday showing what appears to be the largest and most dangerous gathering of the terror group in years.

Shot in Yemen, the video shows Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the No. 2 leader of al Qaeda globally and the chief of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), out in the open, greeting other members with kisses and handshakes.

Terrorism experts say he appears unconcerned about the possibility of being struck by an American drone attack.

U.S. intelligence officials reportedly are analyzing the footage frame by frame, but Harf on Wednesday told reporters that it's hard to extrapolate many facts from the video clip.

"I don't think we can make generalizations about their strength based on one video, quite frankly," she said. "We know they've been gaining in strength. We have been increasingly concerned, as I said, since 2009. That's why we've worked increasingly to counter the threat from AQAP in a variety of different ways."

She also said the video underscores some of the points the Obama administration has been making about al Qaeda in general. President Obama and other U.S. officials have altered their assertions about al Qaeda over the two years, changing references to al Qaeda being on the run, to the "core of al Qaeda" being on a "path to defeat."

Because the video shows Wuhayshi still appearing to operate from Yemen, Harf said “it speaks to some of the points we've talked about with al Qaeda core – that they're increasingly decentralized.”

Harf also said the video doesn't increase the U.S. intelligence community's concern about the threat from AQAP.

"Quite frankly, our concern was already incredibly high," she said. "If folks remember as recently as, I think, August of last year we actually temporarily suspended operations at our embassy in [the Yemeni capital of] Sana'a based, again, on a credible threat stemming from AQAP."

"So, it's something we have taken very seriously for a very long time," she added.

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