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Did the United States miss top al Qaeda meeting in Yemen?

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
updated 6:07 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years
  • U.S. officials won't say whether they knew about the meeting
  • CNN national security analyst: "Common sense would suggest that they missed it"

Washington (CNN) -- New questions were being asked Wednesday after a video surfaced showing what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.

Did U.S. intelligence officials even know the meeting was taking place?

"I can't imagine that they knew about this meeting. After all, there have been seven drone attacks in Yemen this year. There was one on April 1, so it's not like the drone program is being suspended," Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst, told "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."

"It seems to me we don't know for a fact if they did or did not know about this meeting, but common sense would suggest that they missed it," he said.

U.S. officials aren't commenting on that, but every frame of the video is now being analyzed as a potential piece of intelligence.

Analysts are looking at a flashy white truck that appears, leading a convoy. They are even analyzing the fruit juice being served as a possible clue.

In the middle of the clip, the man known as al Qaeda's crown prince, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, appears brazenly out in the open, greeting followers in Yemen. Al-Wuhayshi is the No. 2 leader of al Qaeda globally and the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

In a speech to the group, al-Wuhayshi makes it clear that he's going after the United States, saying "We must eliminate the cross. ... The bearer of the cross is America!"

The video started appearing on jihadist websites recently, drawing the attention of U.S. officials and global terrorism experts. U.S. officials say they believe it's authentic.

They believe the highly produced video is recent. With some fighters' faces blurred, there is worry it signals a new round of plotting.

Asked by Blitzer why al Qaeda would release such a video, Bergen speculated that the group did it for propaganda purposes.

"To show we're here. We're still in operation," he said. "This group is still potentially a pretty virulent threat, unfortunately."

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, also known as AQAP, is considered the most dangerous al Qaeda affiliate. The CIA and the Pentagon have killed multiple AQAP leaders with drone strikes. But the group is now emboldened.

Retired Gen. Mark Kimmitt said smaller al Qaeda affiliates are coalescing into a more organized base.

"Sooner or later, if they continue to get better, stronger and more organized," he said, "they will be a direct threat to the United States."

It's unlikely the United States wasn't aware of the meeting shown in the video, Kimmitt told "CNN Tonight."

"The question isn't why didn't we know," he said. "The question is: What are we going to do about it?"

CNN's Dana Ford, Catherine E. Shoichet and Bill Weir contributed to this report.

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