Osama to Obama: “I’m still here”

With the violence in Gaza and the imminent changeover in administrations here in Washington D.C., terrorism experts told Foreign Policy in interviews today, Osama bin Laden apparently thought the time was right to deliver a message to both his supporters and his enemies. An audio tape attributed to the al Qaeda leader appeared on an ...

589505_090114_osama5.jpg
589505_090114_osama5.jpg

With the violence in Gaza and the imminent changeover in administrations here in Washington D.C., terrorism experts told Foreign Policy in interviews today, Osama bin Laden apparently thought the time was right to deliver a message to both his supporters and his enemies.

An audio tape attributed to the al Qaeda leader appeared on an Islamist website early Wednesday morning. Although there has not been any independent confirmation of whether the voice on the tape is actually bin Laden's, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stated that he had no reason to question the tape's authenticity.

The message called for jihad against Israel for its assault on Gaza. Addressing the Palestinian people, bin Laden stated: "We are with you and we will not let you down. Our fate is tied to yours in fighting the Crusader-Zionist coalition, in fighting until victory or martyrdom." He also publicly doubted the ability of the United States to continue its struggle, saying that "America is begging the world for money," and "the USA will not be as powerful as it used to be."

With the violence in Gaza and the imminent changeover in administrations here in Washington D.C., terrorism experts told Foreign Policy in interviews today, Osama bin Laden apparently thought the time was right to deliver a message to both his supporters and his enemies.

An audio tape attributed to the al Qaeda leader appeared on an Islamist website early Wednesday morning. Although there has not been any independent confirmation of whether the voice on the tape is actually bin Laden’s, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stated that he had no reason to question the tape’s authenticity.

The message called for jihad against Israel for its assault on Gaza. Addressing the Palestinian people, bin Laden stated: “We are with you and we will not let you down. Our fate is tied to yours in fighting the Crusader-Zionist coalition, in fighting until victory or martyrdom.” He also publicly doubted the ability of the United States to continue its struggle, saying that “America is begging the world for money,” and “the USA will not be as powerful as it used to be.”

While the world’s most wanted man hardly broke new ground with these pronouncements, the very fact that he recorded a message himself — his first since last May — shows that he is very much alive and intent on being a public antagonist to U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama.

“No matter how isolated bin Laden is, [the tape shows] that he is following current events and maintains the ability to comment on them and get his message out there,” Bruce Hoffman, a professor at the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, told FP.

There is no issue in the Arab world that is the focus of more rage right now than the Israeli assault on Gaza, which has now claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Palestinians. Since al Qaeda has been unable to establish any actual presence in Palestine, bin Laden’s tape is one of the terrorist organization’s only available methods for being heard on the subject. “The Israel-Palestine conflict is, for many al Qaeda members, at the heart of their struggle, so they had to comment on it,” noted Daniel Byman, a counterterrorism expert with the Brookings Institution. “The Arab world is riveted to what is going on in Gaza, and it is hard for them to remain on the sidelines.”

Bin Laden is also likely interested in puncturing some of the hopes raised by Obama’s upcoming inauguration, a message also delivered recently by th al Qaeda leader’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

“They’re essentially saying that, despite Obama’s talk about change, his administration will be the same old wine in a different bottle,” said Hoffman. “The message is: Don’t feel hope, don’t be taken in. The United States is still doing horrible things to Muslims around the world, and al Qaeda will eventually be victorious.”

Bin Laden also blames Bush for “the collapse of the economy,” arguing that if the United States pursues its war against al Qaeda it will “drown in economic crisis.” This is actually a persistent theme of bin Laden’s rhetoric. Since 2002, bin Laden has claimed that the United States was on the verge of military and economic collapse, in much the same way that the Soviet Union was during its battles against the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. “He sees the West in fundamental decline, and believes that it is losing the ability to maintain the fight,” explained Byman.

Bin Laden is about to outlast the U.S. president who vowed seven years ago to bring him in “dead or alive.” Clearly, he’s gearing up for the next one.

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

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