Osama bin Laden broke a year-long silence yesterday to warn Americans that al-Qaida is preparing new attacks against the US, according to a new audiotape attributed to him.
“The operations are under preparation and you will see them in your houses as soon as they are complete, God willing,” the speaker on the tape said. At the same time he offered a “long-term” truce dependent on the US pulling out of Iraq.
Al-Qaida has not attacked the US since September 11 2001, but Bin Laden said that was not because the organisation had been foiled by tightened anti-terrorism measures. “The proof of that is the explosions you have seen in the capitals of European nations,” he said.
The release of the tape, parts of which were broadcast by al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic TV channel, may have been timed to quash speculation that Bin Laden had died or been killed. His last taped message came in December 2004.
“This message is about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how to end those wars,” yesterday’s tape began. Apparently addressing Americans, it continued: “It was not my intention to talk to you about this, because those wars are definitely going our way. But what triggered my desire to talk to you is the continuous deliberate misinformation given by your President Bush, when it comes to polls made in your home country which reveal that the majority of your people are willing to withdraw US forces from Iraq.
“We know that the majority of your people want this war to end and opinion polls show the Americans don’t want to fight the Muslims on Muslim land, nor do they want Muslims to fight them on their [American] land.”
Bin Laden has previously offered a truce to Europe, not the US. In the message he told Americans: “We do not mind offering a long-term truce based on just conditions that we will stick to. We are a nation that Allah banned from lying and stabbing others in the back, hence both parties of the truce will enjoy stability and security to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by war.”
Mr Atwan, the editor of the London-based daily al-Quds al-Arabi, said he believed Bin Laden was trying to present himself as a politician, not as a terrorist or killer. “He’s saying, ‘We have a political agenda’, and offering a truce. He is saying to the Americans, ‘Your leadership is the source of the problem. Bush is not listening to you when you ask him to withdraw from Iraq.’”
Now, what to make of that truce thing? Of course, it should be scoffed at and rejected, as it has been. Second, is it a sign of a pending attack or a hint at weakness? Anton La Guardia, diplomatic editor for the Telegraph, seems to opt for the latter.
Meanwhile, the al-Qa’eda “brand” has been kept alive by videos released on the internet or to Arab satellite stations. For the past 13 months bin Laden has mysteriously vanished. The latest audio tape will quieten rumours of his death, but the feebleness of his voice may stoke speculation that he is too ill to be shown in the flesh.
The principal role of marketing al-Qa’eda has been performed by Ayman al-Zawahiri. But his video appearances may have exposed him to greater risk of detection.
The Americans appear to be getting closer, judging from events in the Pakistani village of Damalola. Details are sketchy but a US drone appears to have fired a missile into a building where Zawahiri was expected to be.
Initially the strike was regarded as a massacre of innocent villagers. But Pakistani officials said yesterday that four or five senior al-Qa’eda figures were among the dead.
Those killed are said to include a wanted explosives and chemical weapons expert, as well as a Abdul Rehman al-Maghribi, a relative of Zawahiri.
The troubles of the “core” al-Qa’eda leadership are apparent from an intercepted letter from Zawahiri to Zarqawi, released by the US last October.
Zawahiri bemoans the fact that he cannot travel to Iraq, recounts how “the real danger comes from the Pakistani army” and, finally, begs Zarqawi for money because “many of the lines have been cut off”. Still, Zawahiri gives Zarqawi advice, telling him that “we are in a battle, and more than half this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media”.
In Islamic theology traditionally the forces of jihad ask for a truce when they are weak and need to gather strength. Hmmmm.
The post has more on the historical Islamist basis for truces in an update (hat tip to In the Bullpen)