April 14, 2011 -- In a new, rare video message from al Qaeda's number two terrorist commander, Ayman al-Zawahiri calls on Arab armies to intervene in Libya to help eject dictator Moammar Gadhafi before "Western aid... turns into invasions."
The hour-plus long video posted online is the first since Egypt's successful revolution and features the Osama bin Laden deputy in a white robe with the barrel of an assault rifle visible at his side. In addition to discussing the bloody fighting in Libya, al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian native, celebrates the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and says that the continuation of the North African nation depends on the destruction of Israel and the establishment of Islamic law.
Though al-Zawahiri has released audio messages in recent months, it is the first video appearance one of the world's most wanted men has made in more than a year and half. The video also features a separate segment in which American-born radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a key leader of al Qaeda's Yemen branch, shows his support for the revolutions while denouncing U.S. involvement in the Muslim world in general. It's unclear when that portion of the video was made, but it's the first time al-Zawahiri and al-Awlaki have been featured in the same production by as-Sahab, al Qaeda's media wing.
Both al Qaeda leaders' messages mark another attempt in al Qaeda's recent, belated efforts to spin the spreading Arab world protests in their favor.
"Al Qaeda must be pretty damn frustrated these days," a U.S. official told ABC News. "Calls for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa don't exactly square with their extremist views. They've been on the wrong side of history -- and humanity -- for years."
Al-Zawahiri previously lauded the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia in the latest issue of al Qaeda's English-language magazine "Inspire".
Last month U.S. government officials and terrorism experts largely declared the recent Arab revolutions a sign of al Qaeda's demise, saying the Islamist terror group is unable to garner significant popular support. For months, few, if any messages from al Qaeda leaders have commented on the removal of Arab regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya or the unrest in at least four other Arab nations.
In February, in the midst of the Egyptian uprising, al-Zawahiri released a 34-minute audio message blasting the corrupt government under Mubarak. Al-Zawahiri, the founder of the violent Egyptian Islamic Jihad, was jailed in Egypt in the 1980s for his connection to the assassination of then-President Anwar Sadat. He later accused the Egyptian government of systematic torture in the prison.
Al-Zawahiri was indicted in the U.S. for his alleged role in the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa. There is currently a $25 million reward for information leading to his apprehension.