What to Know
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri put out a video Wednesday to again cheer the slaughter of thousands of Americans on 9/11 18 years ago
The CIA and U.S. military is still trying to find the elusive Al Qaeda leader, believed to be hiding in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region
In the tape released for 9/11, al-Zawahiri called the killing of 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania "blessed raids"
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri put out a video Wednesday to again cheer the slaughter of thousands of Americans on 9/11, 18 years ago.
The CIA and U.S. military is still trying to find the elusive Al Qaeda leader who is believed to be hiding in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Analysts believe he does not use cell phones and has little contact with the outside world in order to avoid being captured or killed. But al-Zawahiri is still releasing video and audio messages to try to inspire his thousands of followers, with three recordings released in just the last few weeks — including the one today.
In the tape released for 9/11, al-Zawahiri called the killing of 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon and on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania “blessed raids.”
As minority leader, New York Sen. Charles Schumer is one of the few leaders on Capitol Hill to get regular intelligence briefings on the hunt for al-Zawahiri.
“He was number two. He has the blood of thousands of Americans on his hands,” Schumer said of al-Zawahiri’s role back in 2001. Schumer said he is hopeful progress could soon be made in finally bringing al-Zawahiri to justice.
“A lot of the briefings we get are classified … but I can tell you finding al-Zawahiri is an extremely high priority for our law enforcement.”
Al-Zawahiri was alongside Osama bin Laden when the 9/11 attacks were planned.
After bin Laden was found and killed in 2011 in Pakistan, al-Zawahiri took over a weakened Al Qaeda. The terror group has been overshadowed in recent years by ISIS.
Al-Zawahiri is still trying to rally Al Qaeda followers in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria to carry out attacks against the West and any countries that target the terror group. His recent messages focus on countries ranging from the U.S., Israel, France and Britain to even India, China and Russia.
While the U.S. has carried out several strikes in past years on Al Qaeda targets where al-Zawahiri was suspected to possibly be hiding, he has not been hit. One strike apparently did kill one of his wives and other relatives.
“If you asked for a best guess, people expect Zawahiri to turn up — whenever he does — somewhere in the (Afghanistan-Pakistan) region probably,” said Georgetown University Law Professor Joshua Geltzer, who was director of counter-terrorism at the National Security Council from 2015-2017. He said intelligence and counter-terror officials continue to assign human and technical sources to try to track the Al Qaeda leader.
But there have been other priorities like stopping the spread of ISIS and stopping lone-wolf and domestic actors.
“All of these compete in a sense for resources and leadership attention, all of them are important counter-terror priorities,” Geltzer said. “Anything that links back to the 9/11 attacks at the level of seniority we know that al-Zawahiri (had), I suspect that continues to get attention too.”
In addition to 9/11, al-Zawahiri is linked to other past Al Qaeda attacks ranging from the 1998 East African embassy bombings to the USS Cole bombing in 2000. And Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen remains active, claiming responsibility for more recent plots including the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris.
Geltzer says the inability to find al-Zawahiri has been frustrating, but said there have been many successes since 9/11 in preventing the next big attack.
“Big picture the goal is to protect Americans. It isn’t a perfect record since 9/11, but it is a pretty extraordinary one.”
As for al-Zawahiri’s latest video, unclear exactly when it was filmed but experts say references to several specific events suggests it was likely made recently.