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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. In the past month, al-Qaida has embarked on a media blitz. It's released three videos supporting terrorist and militant groups in Somalia and the Sudan. Experts say al-Qaida is trying to extend its reach in the Horn of Africa. Here's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: The first al-Qaida video featured Osama bin Laden. The second one showed his second-in-command. And in both messages, the men praised fighters in the Horn of Africa.

While any message from bin Laden is parsed for information, it is a third video from al-Qaida's media arm that made intelligence analysts sit up and take notice. It came out of Somalia last week, and it was a slick recruitment tape complete with its own original rap music score.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Rapping) Bomb, bomb, bomb, blast, blast, blast…

TEMPLE-RASTON: That was played under the opening sequence of the half-hour video. It was made by a Somali militia group called al-Shabab, which has ties with al-Qaida.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ABU MANSOUR AL-AMRIKI: (Rapping) (unintelligible) to Somalia, (unintelligible), after the warlords were ruined and ran. Now when in the place where the (unintelligible) stands, from the east to the west, the (unintelligible).

TEMPLE-RASTON: The video stars a young man. He calls himself Abu Mansour al-Amriki. Amriki means American in Arabic. Intelligence officials are divided over who he really is. Some think he's an American from the West Coast. Others say his Arabic is so good, he must be a native speaker. Wherever he came from, he's got intelligence analysts focused on his group, al-Shabab.

Mr. MANSOUR: Even though we're not seeing the enemy right at this moment, the enemy's very near.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Abu Mansour is young, rail thin, and speaks English with an American accent. In one part of the video, he appears to be preparing recruits - who also speak English - for battle.

Mr. MANSOUR: The only reason we're staying here, away from our families, away from the cities, away from, you know, ice, candy bars, all these other things, is because we're waiting to meet with the enemy.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Waiting to meet the enemy. The video then cuts to a firefight with Ethiopian forces. The battle apparently took place last summer.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

TEMPLE-RASTON: Abu Mansour orders the small group of fighters who are with him to retreat. But here's what's important: He says so in English.

Mr. MANSOUR: (unintelligible) Let's go, let's go.

TEMPLE-RASTON: It isn't just that the video features an American that has attracted so much attention. It is that it appeared in the midst of reports that some two dozen young, Somali-Americans from Minneapolis have disappeared over the past two years. They are believed to be training with this very group.

The question is whether the man in the video is speaking English because that's the language the men with him understand, and if that's the case, whether the group might include some of the Minneapolis boys.

Mr. BILL BRANIFF (West Point's Combating Terrorism Center): It'll be interesting to see the extent to which al-Qaida spins this phenomenon.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Bill Braniff, at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center, says al-Qaida would love people to believe that there's a connection between the missing boys and the video.

Mr. BRANIFF: What we see is al-Qaida try to control the propaganda output. They're not trying to control the activity on the ground to the same extent as they're trying to control the propaganda about the activity on the ground.

TEMPLE-RASTON: In the past month, the Obama national security team has mentioned their concern about al-Qaida's growing influence in the Horn of Africa. Intelligence analysts are trying to figure out what al-Qaida's intentions are in the region. Some say it's as simple as building an association with a local terror group. Others say al-Qaida may be shopping around for a backup safe haven if things get too hot in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Jonathan Stevenson is a professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College. He says the emergence of al-Shabab bears watching.

Professor JONATHAN STEVENSON (Strategic Studies, U.S. Naval War College): And the fact that al-Qaida seems to find al-Shabab an interesting fellow traveler, so to speak, would certainly be a new development that should, you know, raise everybody's ears.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The latest videos only add to those concerns.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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