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Osama bin Laden, who has long criticized America in his fiery speeches, is turning his attention to France. In a new audio recording purported to be from the Al Qaeda leader, Mr. Bin Laden threatens French citizens with kidnappings and death, warns France to pull its troops out of Afghanistan, and chastises the nation for banning the full-face Islamic veil for women.
"The equation is very clear and simple: as you kill, you will be killed; as you take others hostages, you will be taken hostages; as you waste our security we will... waste your security," Bin Laden said in a two-minute recording broadcast Wednesday by Al Jazeera.
It comes less than two weeks after Saudi Arabia warned France that the Yemen-based branch of Al Qaeda was planning an attack, leading France to increase its warning level of a possible terrorist attack to the second-highest level. That warning followed bomb scares that led to the Eiffel tower being evacuated twice in September, and threats against the city’s metro system.
Wants troops out, burqa un-banned
Al Jazeera reports that in the audio recording, Bin Laden says the kidnapping of five French nationals in Niger last month was the result of French injustices against Muslims. That kidnapping has been claimed by an allied group in North Africa, called Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
He also said France’s ban of Islamic full-face veils for women, like the niqab or the burqa, was unjust. France’s law is due to take effect in April.
The French Foreign Ministry said today that the tape appears real. Its "authenticity can be considered established based on initial verifications," it said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
France may begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next year, reports Agence France-Presse. But French Defense Minister Herve Morin said withdrawal plans are part of a NATO timeline, and have nothing to do the Bin Laden tape. France has about 3,500 soldiers in Afghanistan and 50 have died there since 2001.
According to France 24, the recording is the first time the Al Qaeda leader has specifically threatened the French. An expert on North African terrorist groups told the news channel that the message shows close coordination between Al Qaeda’s North Africa branch and its “headquarters” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. CNN recently reported that, according to a top NATO official, the Al Qaeda leader is living comfortably in a house in northwest Pakistan.
Bin Laden's waning influence
Despite attempts to influence the Arab and Muslim public with his messages, Bin Laden’s relevance may be waning. He released two audio recordings in January that attempted to broaden Al Qaeda’s appeal, but The Christian Science Monitor reported that he was hardly heard beyond his small circle of supporters.
Bin Laden is arguably irrelevant when it comes to his ability to inspire the overthrow of a government like Saudi Arabia's, let alone America's. The deep concerns, nine years ago, that the propaganda of his deeds was going to raise legions in support for a global Islamic emirate have since been laid to rest.
"What everyone is really focused on right now is AQAP [in Yemen and Saudi Arabia], and some people say it shows Al Qaeda is really dangerous and the people who said they were 'irrelevant' are wrong," says Marc Lynch, a political science professor at George Washington University who studies the Arab world. "But that's a misunderstanding. What I've been saying is that Al Qaeda, as a political force in the mainstream Arab world, is way down. They're seen as marginal, irrelevant, not attractive anymore."
After Bin Laden released another recording in March, the Monitor's Dan Murphy reported that "as the years have gone by without his threats backed up by solid action – no successful attack has been carried out by his group on US soil since 2001 – his comments have increasingly been treated as empty."