The image was taken from a video recording of a strategy meeting held by the leaders of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The featured leaders are (from right to left): Abu al-Harith Muhammad al-‘Awfi (a field commander who would subsequently defect from the group), Abu Basir Nasir al-Wahishi (AQAP’s current leader), Abu Sufyan Said al-Shihri (former Guantanamo inmate), and Abu Hurayra Qasim al-Raymi (military commander). The caption reads: “min huna nabda’u wa-fi al-aqsa naltaqi” (“we start from here and we shall meet at al-Aqsa”). The reference to al-Aqsa in Jerusalem (recognized and revered by all Muslims, although it is mostly a powerful symbol of Palestinian nationhood) evokes popular sentiments regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict, and especially the Israeli occupation, and helps the organization emphasize the global nature of its aspirations and strategy.
The black banner in the background behind the leaders bears the shahada (Islamic testimony of faith holding that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger), which is also incorporated in the logo of AQAP’s media wing sada al-malahim (the echo of epic battles). According to prophetic tradition (hadith), the black flag was the battle flag of the Prophet Muhammad and it was carried into battle by many of his companions. The image of the black flag has been used as a symbol of religious revolt and engagement in battle (i.e., jihad). In the contemporary Islamist movement, the black flag with the shahada is used to evoke notions of jihad and of reestablishing the Islamic Caliphate.
The date of the image is 10 Muharram 1430 A.H. (7 January 2009 C.E.).