Osama bin Laden has released another audio – his first since September – in which he once again highlights the importance of the Palestinian struggle in Al Qaeda’s resistance. This audio – taken from Al Jazeera – has yet to be confirmed as authentic by the US government, but contains many of the same patterns and themes found in earlier bin Laden recordings.
Marc Lynch points to the fact that in the audio bin Laden gives AQ credit for the failed Christmas Day bombings in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up an airplane. In the video bin Laden refers to Abdulmutallab as a hero. Lynch recalls how Americans overreacted to the failed bombing and warned about the return of Bush’s GWOT.
Two things strike me about the latest audio. Firstly, as Leah Farrall notes, the timing of the video is perfectly collaborated with the recent congressional gains of the Republicans. The video is trying to force Obama to commit more to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This seems counterintuitive for AQ, but further involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen would further justify the role of AQ in the eyes of many Arabs. Farrall says:
In terms of what he’s doing. It’s pretty damn clear that by taking credit for this (even if AQ HQ didn’t authorise -which I strongly suspect it did given doctrinal requirements for operating outside of its usual theatre of operations) he is trying to force Obama more onto the war footing. Keep the jihad going. As I have said many times.
Secondly, bin Laden strongly pushes on Israeli-US ties and the occupation of Palestine in the audio. While many have tried to disassociate AQ and the occupation of Palestine, this has been one constant in the message bin Laden has been delivering since his first public message in 1996 (in his 1996 fatwa against the US, bin Laden refers to an ‘American-Israeli conspiracy and laments about the blood being spilled by Americans in Iraq and Palestine; see chapter 3 in Walt and Mearsheimer for more). This audio was released immediately after President Obama admitted the difficulty he was having in finding common ground between Israel and Palestine. In 2009 Obama was not able to push the Israeli PM to make true concessions in the peace process. This video, in the eyes of Arabs, further ties American support for Israel to the occupation of Palestine. It is possible that the Palestinian issue is one that is only used as a tool to gather support, but it has been consistently used by bin Laden for over 10 years (although it is interesting how the Palestinians – Hamas included – have largely rejected the AQ philosophy).
There should not be a lot of significance given to this latest audio. Besides reiterating the fact that bin Laden is (probably) still alive, it does not reveal much. It connects the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) with main stream AQ and it highlights the failure of Palestinian peace. Of course, one cannot underestimate the recruiting power of the audio, but by pressing on the Palestinian situation, it is focusing on the struggles of a people that have mostly rejected AQ. The White House has rejected the audio as significant as well:
David Axelrod, a senior Obama adviser, told CNN’s State of the Union programme that “assuming that it is him, his message contains the same hollow justifications for the mass slaughters of innocents that we’ve heard before”.
“And the irony is that he’s killed more Muslims than people from any other religion – he’s a murderer,” Axelrod added.