BIN LADEN THREATENS AMERICANS IN NEW TAPE
June 3, 2009
Osama bin Laden has threatened Americans in a new audio tape, saying President Barack Obama inflamed hatred toward the U.S. by ordering Pakistan to crack down on militants in Swat Valley and block Islamic law in the area.
Bin Laden claimed U.S. pressure led to a campaign of "killing, fighting, bombing and destruction" that prompted the exodus of a million Muslims from Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan.
The message was broadcast for the first time Wednesday on pan-Arab Al-Jazeera Television at almost the same moment Obama touched down in Saudi Arabia at the start of a Mideast visit aimed at repairing frayed U.S. relations with the Muslim world.
PURPORTED BIN LADEN TAPE SLAMS U.S. ROLE IN PAKISTAN
June 3, 2009
The emergence of a purported statement from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden about U.S. policy in Pakistan as the U.S. president embarks on a major trip to Muslim countries is no coincidence, the White House spokesman and a counterterrorism official say.
"I think the reports we've seen are consistent with messages we've seen in the past from al Qaeda threatening the U.S. and other countries that are involved in counter-terrorism efforts," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Wednesday.
"But I don't think it's surprising that al Qaeda would want to shift attention away from the president's historic efforts and continued efforts to reach out and have an open dialogue with the Muslim world."
A U.S. counterterrorism official, asked about the statement, said bin Laden "has timed the release of tapes to major events so it is not surprising that he picked this particular week."
Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language TV network that aired the message on Wednesday, said the statement was "a voice recording by bin Laden." As for the tape's authenticity, a CNN analysis said the voice does indeed sound like the leader of the terrorist network that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. The counterterrorism official said "there has never been a fake Bin Laden tape."
The message comes as Obama begins his trip to the Middle East, visiting Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and, in Egypt on Thursday, making a major speech to the Muslim world.
Zeroing in on the conflict in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where Pakistan's troops are taking on Taliban militants, the message asserts that Obama is proving that he is "walking the same road of his predecessors to build enmity against Muslims and increasing the number of fighters, and establishing more lasting wars."
The message said U.S. policy in Pakistan has generated "new seeds of hatred and revenge against America."
The remarks -- which would be bin Laden's first assessment of Obama's policy -- were believed to have been recorded several weeks ago at the start of a mass civilian exodus because of fighting in northwestern Pakistan.
The speaker cites strikes, destruction, and Obama's "order" to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari "to prevent the people of Swat from implementing sharia law."
"All this led to the displacement of about a million Muslim elders, women and children from their villages and homes. They became refugees in tents after they were honored in their own homes," the message says.
"This basically means that Obama and his administration put new seeds of hatred and revenge against America. The number of these seeds is the same as the number of those victims and refugees in Swat and the tribal area in northern and southern Waziristan."
And, the message says, "the American people need to prepare to only gain what those seeds bring up."
The speaker also says Zardari and Pakistan's military chief, Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, continue to divert the army's main role from protecting the nation to fighting Islam and its followers. He says the war is also hurting Pakistan's economy, endangering the country's religion and security, and "fulfilling an American, Jewish, and Indian plot."
"Most of the Pakistani people reject this unjust war. Zardari did this in response to the ones paying him in the White House -- not 10 percent but multiple folds of that," the message says.
The message points to India's aspirations, saying it is "easy for India to subject the disassembled territories of Pakistan, one after another, for its own benefit, like the case of eastern Pakistan before, or even worse."
"This way, America eases its worry towards Pakistan's nuclear weapons," the message says.
Eastern Pakistan is a reference to Bangladesh, which had been part of Pakistan until it became an independent country in 1971. Pakistan and India have also been at odds over the disputed territory of Kashmir, and pro-bin Laden jihadis have opposed Indian rule there.
Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special envoy to Pakistan and India, said he hadn't listened to the message but commented on what he had heard about it.
"The idea that anyone is responsible for the refugee crisis other than al Qaeda and the Taliban and the other people who have caused such tragedy in western Pakistan is ludicrous," he said. "This entire problem begins with al Qaeda and its associates, and everybody in the world knows that, and it's silly to even respond to such a ludicrous charge."
Al-Jazeera aired three separate segments totaling just over four minutes long from what it said is a new bin Laden audiotape aired over an old still picture of the terrorist leader. The network's anchors took part in describing each of the segments before they ran them.
Since the message was not posted on the radical Islamist Web sites that usually carry statements from al Qaeda, it is believed that this latest message was hand-delivered to the TV network, based in Doha, Qatar.
In other purported bin Laden messages issued in March, he called for Somalia's new president to be overthrown and called Israel's recent offensive in Gaza a "holocaust."
Bin Laden has delivered many messages over the years, but the last video message from him was in early September 2007.
In that video message, he criticized U.S. Democrats for failing to stop the war in Iraq; spoke of the anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II; the troop surge in Iraq; and world leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
On that tape, bin Laden's appearance was artificially changed for the first time. He dyed his beard from grayish white to black, leading analysts to believe that he has switched to sending only audio messages because he is altering his looks and doesn't want people to know what he looks like. Analysts also believe that bin Laden hasn't made videos lately because they are more labor-intensive to produce.
There have been gaps between videos from bin Laden, with many audio messages in between, each time prompting analysts to theorize he might be dead. The last two videos of bin Laden himself delivering an address were the 2007 tape and another in 2004. [See a timeline of  bin Laden messages from 2001 to 2009.]
The U.S. counterterrorism official said of the latest purported bin Laden tape that "while the words are different" from other messages, this statement "recycles the broad themes of messages past."
"While we are still looking at the message closely there is no reason to believe any specific or credible threat is contained in it," the official said.
Al Qaeda's second in command issued an audio statement Tuesday saying Obama is not welcome in Egypt.
Ayman al-Zawahiri said relations with the United States cannot be mended so long as the administration maintains its alliance with Israel. advertisement
In a message called "Tyrants of Egypt and America's agents welcome Obama" that was posted on Islamist Web sites, al-Zawahiri once again lashed out at the United States. Obama's message to the Muslim world, he said, has already been delivered with his support for "Zionist aggression."
In the 10-minute audio message, al-Zawahiri said Obama had already made himself an enemy of Muslims by sending more soldiers to Afghanistan, ordering bombings in the tribal areas of Pakistan and administering a "bloody campaign against Muslims" in Pakistan's Swat Valley.
OSAMA BIN LADEN TAPE OVERSHADOWS BARACK OBAMA'S ATTEMPTS TO ENGAGE MIDDLE EAST
By Richard Spencer (Cairo) and Toby Harnden (Washington)
** President Barack Obama's arrival in the Middle East to build a better US relationship with the Muslim world has been overshadowed by the release of a new tape from Osama bin Laden. **
June 3, 2009
The recording emerged just as Mr. Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia at the start of a Middle East tour aimed at improving ties with Middle East countries.
The al-Qaeda leader claimed United States policy had led to a campaign of "killing, fighting, bombing, and destruction" in the Swat area of north-west Pakistan and Americans would "reap what the White House leaders have sown."
The release of the audio tape appeared to be timed to undermine Mr. Obama's attempts to restart the Arab-Israeli peace process.
Bin Laden said: "Elderly people, children, and women fled their homes and lived in tents as refugees after they have lived in dignity in their homes. Let the American people be ready to reap what the White House leaders have sown.
"Obama and his administration have sown new seeds to increase hatred and revenge on America. The number of these seeds is equal to the number of displaced people from Swat Valley."
The message was broadcast across the Middle East on al-Jazeera television just as Air Force One touched down in Saudi Arabia. After meeting King Abdullah in Riyadh, Mr. Obama was due to fly to Egypt to deliver a major speech to the Muslim world at Cairo University on Thursday.
White House aides said it was calculated to distract Muslims who would be receptive to Mr. Obama's attempt to improve relations with the U.S. after the Iraq invasion and President George W. Bush's eight years in office.
Opinion polls released in advance of Mr. Obama's visit have shown improved attitudes towards American leadership in most Muslim and Arab countries since he took office.
"Obviously we've seen news reports of the message but not had an opportunity to review it in its entirety," said Robert Gibbs, Mr. Obama's press secretary.
"I don't think it's surprising that al-Qaeda would want to shift attention away from the president's historic and continued efforts to have an open dialogue with the Muslim world."
Bin Laden's last message was released in March. He had previously been less critical of Mr. Obama. In January, he said only that the new American president had bore a "heavy inheritance" from his predecessor.
After receiving a red-carpet welcome, Mr. Obama sat beside King Abdullah in a gilded chair and sipped cardamom coffee before retreating to hold private talks at the monarch's desert stud [farm, or ranch].
There was no repeat, however, of Mr. Obama's elaborate bow before the king at the G20 summit earlier this year, which prompted widespread criticism and some mockery in the U.S.
The discussions were expected to focus on ways reviving a 2002 Israeli-Palestinian peace plan formulated by the Kingdom, Mr. Obama praised the monarch.
"I've been struck by his wisdom and his graciousness," said Mr. Obama. "Obviously the United States and Saudi Arabia have a long history of friendship, we have a strategic relationship."
He added that it was "very important to come to the place where Islam began and to seek His Majesty's counsel and to discuss with him many of the issues that we confront here in the Middle East."
Mr. Obama's long-awaited "statement of intent" towards the Muslim world, is being anticipated with such high expectations that White House aides and analysts have begun to play down its likely contents.
It will not contain substantive new proposals on the Palestinian issue, they say, while it is not even certain that he will renew his call for Israel to stop the expansion of settlements in occupied territories, a minimum requirement for many Arabs.
Some Arab critics have already started suggesting that Mr. Obama will follow his predecessor in allowing high-flown rhetoric to obscure continuing support for Israel.
But there remains excitement in Cairo, with market stalls selling souvenir pendants and other trinkets portraying the American president as a pharaoh.
APPARENT OSAMA BIN LADEN TAPE COINCIDES WITH OBAMA VISIT
By Christi Parons and Mark Silva
** As the U.S. president arrives in the Mideast, a voice purporting to be the Al Qaeda leader accuses him of sowing hatred **
Los Angeles Times
June 4, 2009
[PHOTO CAPTION: Saudi King Abdullah and President Obama inspect an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh. Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia at the start of a mission to the Middle East in which he will reach out to the world's Muslims.]
WASHINGTON and RIYADH -- Just as President Obama arrived in the Middle East on Wednesday to deliver his long-planned appeal for mutual understanding, the Arab world heard from a competing voice: Osama bin Laden, accusing the American president via audiotape of sowing hatred.
The attempt by Al Qaeda's leader to undercut Obama's speech to Muslims today served as a reminder of the hurdles still confronting the United States in the region and of the size of the task facing the president as he works to "reset" U.S. ties with Muslim countries.
But the bid for attention also suggested that leaders of the terrorist organization, who have grappled with recent criticism from former followers and from Muslims disaffected by their tactics, may fear an erosion of support for their positions as Obama's popularity grows in Arabic countries.
Separate audiotapes of words purportedly spoken by Bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, were aired by the Arab-language Al Jazeera satellite television station as Obama was arriving in Saudi Arabia a day before his scheduled speech in Cairo.
The White House saw the tapes as a likely attempt by Al Qaeda's leaders to undercut Obama's mission and to disrupt the message of conciliation and trust he wants to convey.
"I don't think it's surprising that Al Qaeda would want to shift attention away from the president's historic efforts . . . to reach out and have an open dialogue with the Muslim world," said Robert Gibbs, Obama's press secretary, as the president was holding private meetings with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
U.S. officials said they could not verify the tapes' authenticity. They said that they were "assuming" the speakers actually were Bin Laden and Zawahiri, and that the militant leaders had intended their statements to coincide with Obama's arrival.
"I don't think the timing is a coincidence," said Philip J. Crowley, a State Department spokesman.
Bin Laden, part of a Saudi family that built royal palaces and gained enormous wealth in construction, became involved in the militant movement during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. After returning to Saudi Arabia, he was confined to house arrest, and left the country in the early 1990s, his Saudi citizenship publicly revoked in 1994.
Bin Laden last surfaced via audiotape in March and, before that, in January.
In the new audiotape, the words attributed to Bin Laden likened Obama to President George W. Bush. The statement said Obama ordered Pakistan to block Islamic law and crack down on militants in the Swat Valley. U.S. pressure led to a campaign of "killing, fighting, bombing, and destruction," he said, forcing a million Muslims to flee.
"This simply means that Obama and his administration have planted new seeds of hatred and vengeance toward America," the purported Bin Laden said, according to a translation.
"In this manner," the speaker said, "Obama appears to have followed the same path taken by his predecessor, in creating more enmity toward Muslims, and adding on to the fighting enemies, thus paving the way for new long wars."
The tape's broadcast followed comments attributed to Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Zawahiri, urging Egyptians to shun Obama and contending that the "torturers of Egypt" and "slaves of America" had invited the American leader to speak in Cairo.
The administration has attempted to draw a contrast between an Al Qaeda in hiding and an American leader taking a high-profile stance with his appeal to the Muslim world.
"You have the leader of the free world speaking from one of the great cities in the world, and you have Bin Laden speaking from an undisclosed location," said Crowley, the State Department spokesman. "That speaks volumes in terms of the contrast."
The dual messages are signs that Al Qaeda's leaders fear the impact that a new American president popular in the region can have in a battle for public support, said Tom Sanderson, deputy director of the Transnational Threats Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank.
"He's whipping [them], in terms of U.S. public diplomacy," Sanderson said. "Obama is laying a groundwork for relations with Muslim countries. We're making genuine steps, literally taking steps, walking into these countries."
If authentic, it is Bin Laden's first public statement in three months. He has kept such a low profile that Pakistani officials have speculated he was dead.
Al Qaeda has been struggling in recent months against accusations its leaders were insensitive to the suffering their violence had caused and that their approach created chaotic and ungoverned zones of violence.
According to a U.S. intelligence report last fall, Al Qaeda and similar extremist groups face a period of declining support across the Middle East, in part because moderate Muslims do not share their vision. However, the report by the National Intelligence Council added that as they lose influence, extremists are likely to resort to more deadly tactics.
A Gallup Poll on Wednesday showed that approval of American leadership among Egyptians is at 25%, a rise from the recent past but still a sign that there are considerable obstacles, even among the better U.S. friends in the Middle East.
Obama has been planning an elaborate outreach to Muslims since his presidential campaign. As it got underway Wednesday, Obama began with a stop in this desert capital to seek the counsel of an old American friend.
King Abdullah greeted Obama with open arms and a 21-rocket salute at the royal airport, before hosting the president and his party for dinner and a night's stay at his sprawling ranch retreat.
Amid an afternoon of cardamom coffee and conversation, Abdullah took a break to tell reporters of the "historic and strategic ties" between the two countries. Obama talked about how that might serve their mutual interests in the region.
"I thought it was very important to come to the place where Islam began," Obama told reporters, "and to seek his majesty's counsel, and to discuss with him many of the issues that we confront here in the Middle East."
At the king's ranch, Obama and Abdullah huddled personally, with only a few top advisors, for more than two hours. Aides said they discussed a number of topics including oil prices and Middle East peace negotiations.
Saudi Arabia is a key part of Obama's plan for Mideast peace. The White House has been pressuring Israel to give ground on the volatile issue of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory, planning to use that to coax concessions from moderate Arab states.
Abdullah played a role in brokering agreements for a Palestinian national unity government, and his call for interfaith talks resulted in a United Nations conference on dialogue in 2008.
Even as Obama seeks to mend the U.S. image abroad, research suggests that part of the battle rests with the audience back home. Eight in 10 Americans believe that people in Muslim countries simply don't like the U.S., according to the new Gallup Poll data.