The delay in release, apparently due to problems in the militant Web sites where al Qaeda posts its videos, raised questions among counterterror specialists over whether the terror network's long powerful propaganda machine was faltering.
The delay deflated what is usually a media splash for al Qaeda. In previous years, the group has released a string of videos for the 9-11 anniversary, featuring top leaders trumpeting their victories. Osama bin Laden spoke in one of the anniversary videos last year, making his first appearance in nearly three years.
Al Qaeda promised a similar event this year, announcing in a Sept. 8 Web advertisement that it would release a video that would bring joy to its followers. It sought to build drama by promising a surprise speaker, showing him in silhouette with a question mark over his face.
But soon after, the Islamic militant Web forums where al Qaeda traditionally posts such videos went down and have remained closed. The reason is not known.
The 90-minute video, entitled "The Results of Seven Years of Crusades," was finally released Friday, according to two U.S. groups that monitor militant messages. It featured speeches by bin Laden's top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri and other top figures in the terror network, as well as the final testament of Ahmed al-Ghamdi, one of the hijackers in the 9-11 attacks, who was apparently the "surprise" speaker, SITE Intelligence and IntelCenter said.
In the video, al Qaeda's top commander in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu al-Yazeed, said the "mujahedeen (holy warriors) are on the increase day after day" in that country.
"We inform the forces of the Cross and their apostate agents that the mujahedeen's policy in the coming stage, Allah permitting, is going to be more major, large-scale attacks," he said, according to a transcript by SITE.
Elsewhere in the video, a leading al Qaeda cleric, known as Sheik Attiyatullah, dismissed claims that the U.S. and Iraqi military were defeating the terror group's branch in Iraq. "The Americans have not won nor has their security plan succeeded," he said.
He acknowledged a "decline in the number of operations (by mujahedeen) and decline in the number of losses in the ranks of the Americans," but said, "this is something natural, as everything has its ups and downs, and every stage has its own circumstances."
"The Americans are without a doubt going to pull out of Iraq dragging their tails in defeat," he said. "The jihad and mujahedeen are here to stay and will keep going, with Allah's help. It requires only a little patience."
Violence has dramatically dropped in Iraq this year. U.S. commanders say the decline is in part due to setbacks to al Qaeda and the Sunni Muslim-led insurgency, particularly because of the surge in U.S. forces and the growth of anti-al Qaeda Sunni tribal fighters known as "Awakening Councils." Attiyatullah dismissed the Awakening Councils as "projects of treason."
Meanwhile, in aFriday, U.S. troops backed by an airstrike killed seven Iraqis, including three women, the military said.
The documentary-style video reviewed what it called progress for al Qaeda on several other fronts, including Somalia and North Africa. Al-Zawahri urged Muslims not to neglect fighting the "domestic enemy," referring to Arab governments, which he denounced as corrupt. "We face a crusade aided by the apostate agents who rule us, and this Crusade targets our religion, morals, land and treasure as well as our very existence," he said.
But the problems in releasing al Qaeda's 9-11 anniversary video, usually the most eagerly awaited among sympathizers, raised eyebrows.
"The late timing is certainly curious since they made such a big deal of the announcement," said Evan F. Kohlman, director of Globalterroralert.com, a private terrorism research group.
"They made it seem this was something big but in the end it turned out to be all bark and no bite," he told The Associated Press. "They could be having problems in the production line."
Terror analysts have long seen al Qaeda's media arm, Al-Sahab, as a powerful tool for rallying the network's followers and sympathizers, churning out videos and audiotapes even though the top leadership is in hiding in the mountainous border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The videos have grown in technical sophistication, featuring computer animations and clips from international television media. Bin Laden has issued three audiotapes this year, the most recent in May.
David Heyman, from Washington-based the Center for Strategic and International Studies, pointed to recent Pakistani sweeps in the border region. "It's possible some of those (personnel or facilities) associated with video production have been damaged or destroyed."
Bruce Hoffman, a terror expert at the RAND Corporation, said he was surprised by the delay. "It could be because there has been so much torment in Pakistan and general instability, it has made it more difficult for Al-Sahab to deliver their product," he said.
"The more nefarious reason could be that they have bigger fish to fry, they are planning something bigger, and they are concentrating on other stuff," Hoffman said.