By Adam Levine
A new video released by the Yemeni wing of al Qaeda includes a mysterious English speaker in what could be the debut of a new spokesman to replace Anwar al-Awlaki. The video, posted by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's media arm, is a commemoration of al-Awlaki, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike last September. It includes new footage of al-Awlaki lecturing.
The mystery man, Abu Yazeed, appears twice in the video. He is in shadow, peering off camera, and is wearing glasses and has a full beard. He is wearing what appears to be a black-and-white turban. He is identified as "Brother: Abu Yazeed."
In the video, Abu Yazeed speaks with an accent. He criticizes the U.S. for targeting Muslims as it fights terrorism, referencing the killings of al-Awlaki and American Samir Khan, who was killed in the same strike, and al-Awlaki's son, who was killed in a separate strike.
"Their willingness to exceed all limits is just unthinkable and by assassinating three of its own citizens far away from combat zones and with no judicial process," he says.
In his second appearance, he eulogizes Samir Khan, the editor of AQAP's Inspire magazine, a publication aimed to appeal to Westerners.
A counterterrorism expert told CNN that Abu Yazeed is probably just a partial name, making it difficult to ascertain his identity. Abu Yazeed (also spelled Yazid) is a common name.
The appearance of Abu Yazeed could be significant. The killings of al-Awlaki and Khan were considered a major blow to the terror group’s efforts to appeal to Westerners.
"This is the first time an English speaker has appeared in an AQAP video other than al-Awlaki and is likely to mark his addition to the face of AQAP," said Ben Venzke of IntelCenter, who analyzes terrorist communications. Venzke said that Abu Yazeed could be used the way that al Qaeda in Pakistan uses Adam Gadahn: to deliver a message to Westerners.
No articles about Yazeed appear in past issues of Inspire, said Adam Raisman, an analyst at the SITE intelligence group, who did a search for Security Clearance. Raisman said the name was probably a “nom de guerre.”
Raisman said it was possible that AQAP was trying to debut him in connection with al-Awlaki, who held strong appeal to some Westerners. The U.S. government considered him a threat because of how influential he was in appealing to those in the West and recruiting jihadists.
They could be showing that despite killing al-Awlaki, "there are other English speakers" in AQAP "who can appeal to a Western audience," Raisman told CNN. He said it remains to be seen in future releases whether he truly is the new spokesman.
- Pam Benson contributed to this report