Bin Laden is back, now as defender of Iraq
After a year of silence, Al Qaeda leader warns of more attacks against the West.
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In the months since, Al Qaeda's lead military planner, Mohammed Atef, was killed. Abu Zubaydah, bin Laden's operations chief, was taken into US custody. So were Ramzi Binalshibh, considered to be the instrumental planner of the 9/11 terror attacks against the US, and Omar al-Farouq, considered Al Qaeda's key facilitator for terror operations in Southeast Asia. In addition, hundreds of detainees have been rounded up in more than 90 countries cooperating with the US. And three alleged terror support cells have been broken up in the US.Skip to next paragraph
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The prospect of a US war against Iraq is already stirring anti-Western resentment in the Middle East, analysts say, and bin Laden's message appears an attempt to capitalize on that sentiment.
Though the Al Qaeda leader has little sympathy for the determinedly secular Saddam Hussein, the enemy of his enemy is his friend.
"This is an effort to mobilize his supporters, destabilize the West, and capitalize on the situation vis-à-vis Iraq," Dr. Ranstorp says of the tape. The message serves to encourage Al Qaeda supporters and possibly send a coded instruction to operatives. "The tape serves multiple purposes," he says. "One is to tell followers to get ready, to be poised to strike ... for whatever plan has been put in place."
Al Qaeda sleeper cells in the West will probably stick to their schedules for any attacks they are plotting, regardless of war in Iraq, Ranstorp says. But a US attack on Mr. Hussein "would act as an accelerator for spontaneous attacks by sympathizers" launching uncoordinated smaller attacks against Westerners in the Middle East.
The US and its allies are at a heightened state of alert because of this latest message and recent "chatter" intercepts. They have also urged citizens to remain vigilant, noting today's scheduled execution in Virginia of a Pakistani convicted of murdering two CIA employees in 1993.
The Bush administration says the US has the capability of fighting both the war on terror and a war on Iraq simultaneously. But that has many experts worried. "I think we're in for some very unpleasant surprises," says Stanley Bedlington, a former senior analyst in the CIA's counterterrorism center. "[Bin Laden] doesn't make idle threats."
Excerpts from the US translation of the Nov. 12 audiotape by Osama bin Laden:
"The road to safety begins by ending the aggression. Reciprocal treatment is part of justice. The incidents that have taken place since the raids of New York and Washington until now - like the killing of Germans in Tunisia and the French in Karachi, the bombing of the giant French tanker in Yemen, the killing of Marines in Failaka and the British and Australians in the Bali explosions, the recent operation in Moscow ... are only reactions and reciprocal actions. These actions were carried out by the zealous sons of Islam in defense of their religion....
"If you were distressed by the deaths of your men and the men of your allies in Tunisia, Karachi, Failaka, Bali, and Amman, remember our children who are killed in Palestine and Iraq everyday....
"Why should fear, killing, destruction, displacement, orphaning and widowing continue to be our lot, while security, stability and happiness be your lot? This is unfair. It is time we get even. You will be killed just as you kill, and will be bombed just as you bomb...."
- Associated Press