FBI Counter-Terror Official: Al Qaeda 'Thrives' After Dictators Fall

Al Qaeda releases new video praising Arab world unrest.

April 15, 2011, 5:00 PM

April 15, 2011 — -- On the same day reports emerged of a new al Qaeda video that praised the revolutions sweeping the Arab world, one the U.S.'s top counter-terror officials warned the terror organization "thrives" in the political unrest that follows.

"The governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have drastically changed in the last six months," FBI Assistant Director of Counter-Terrorism Mark Giuliano said Thursday. "They are now led by transitional or interim governments, military regimes, or democratic alliances with no established track record on counterterrorism efforts. Al Qaeda thrives in such conditions and countries of weak governance and political instability -- countries in which governments may be sympathetic to their campaign of violence."

Giuliano made the comments at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy just hours before the first reports emerged of the new al Qaeda video, which features separate appearances by al Qaeda's number two commander, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and American-born key commander in al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula (AQAP), Anwar al-Awlaki, each praising the recent uprisings. In the hour-plus long video, al-Zawahiri orders Muslims in Egypt to create an Islamic state there and calls for the Arab armies of the Middle East to intervene in Libya to oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi before "Western aid... turns into invasions."

READ: Al Qaeda Deputy Surfaces in Rare Online Video

If Guiliano is wary of Islamic militant influence in the uprisings, especially in Libya, he's is not alone. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her fears the revolt in Libya would be exploited by terror groups at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting in early March.

When President Obama authorized the U.S. government to provide covert support for the Libyan rebels later that month, the deal did not include arms provisions.

"We don't know as much as we would like to know and as much as we expect we will know," Clinton said at the time of the rebels the U.S. was supporting.

Eastern Libyan towns now associated with the rebel cause were just a few years before considered by the U.S. as havens for al Qaeda fighters, according to government documents.

Read: In Libya, Rebel Strongholds Now, al Qaeda Wellspring Then

Still, one U.S. official saw the new al Qaeda video as just 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," the official told ABC News Thursday in response to the video. "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."

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Whether their spin on the Arab revolutions is working or not, Guiliano said al Qaeda's ability to reach millions around the globe through such video propaganda and al-Qaeda's English-language online magazine "Inspire" -- which dedicated its whole last issue to supporting the revolutions -- is a serious threat to U.S. security.

In fact, Guiliano said that al-Awlaki's AQAP, which produces "Inspire" in addition to online videos, has become "the most serious threat to the homeland today" -- even more so than Osama Bin Laden's "core" al Qaeda group. That's in part due to their media savvy, he said.

"AQAP... understands and expertly exploits social media to share their knowledge with others of similar mindsets," he said. "They realize the importance and value of reaching English speaking audiences and are using the group's marketing skills to inspire individuals to attack within the homeland."

One U.S. official told ABC News that by having al-Awlaki's message appear with that of senior al Qaeda leadership in the new video -- which is unprecedented -- the "core" al Qaeda group may be using al-Awlaki to reach a "more Western audience."

ABC News' Matthew Cole contributed to this report.

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