What is interesting about the latest audio message of Usama Bin Laden, carried by al Jazeera, is its delayed argument. Strangely he is trying to convince the Europeans - seven years later - that they are wrong to have followed the United States into Afghanistan. Why?
In his speech - irrespective of the ritual investigative questions regarding its location, technology and other details - the central issue appears to be his growing concern with the European role in Afghanistan, and perhaps because of it, the potential growth of that role in the fight against the forces of Jihadism worldwide. As a reader of the Jihadi strategic mind, I believe that the speech writers (Bin Laden himself or his “advisors”) are looking ahead in their evaluation of future European involvement in the so-called War on Terror, and are positioning al Qaeda to “own” it. The significance of this is, as al Qaeda’s war room has showed in the past, they are skilled at anticipating trends.
Don’t we remember how in February 2003, way before the US Marines brought down the Saddam statue in April, a Bin Laden audio tape called on the Jihad fighters to begin heading to Iraq, “for Baghdad, the second capital of the Caliphate would be falling into the hands of the Kuffar (infidels)”? In a sense, this is how I read this new Bin Laden tape: he is asking the Europeans to leave the battlefield of Afghanistan now, because he is projecting that events may push the nations of Europe to expand further their involvement overseas. The hidden message in his speech is by far greater than the words aired on al Jazeera, or even the entire text his followers are claiming the Qatari-funded channel “didn’t air.” We’ll come back later to the al Qaeda/al Jazeera labyrinth. The question now is about the essence of the message.
The commander of the Jihadi mother ship says the Afghans sustained the Soviet occupation for many years; hence he warns the European governments that their forces deployed in that country will be continuously attacked. That was the first salvo. Then he “informed” them that they’d made a tremendous mistake by deploying along with US troops and dislodging the Taliban in 2001. He argued that since he was the man behind the massacre of Manhattan, the regime of the Taliban had nothing to do with it. “I am responsible for the attacks of 9/11,” said Bin Laden. (I suggest making sure this declaration is well saved to document future trials and respond to current allegations that Jihadists have nothing to do with it.) He added - the classic refrain – that 9/11 “was in response to aggression in Palestine and Lebanon.” Usama insisted that Taliban ministers didn’t even know that he was launching this operation.
That part, I must admit, came as a surprise to me. Why is he attempting to distance his protectors from the Ghazwa (Jihadi raid) seven years later? We’ll come back to this later as well.
Meanwhile, US administration spokespeople rushed to “explain” that the Afghani people are “happier now because they are better administered.” I disagree with this PR logic. Nations wouldn’t be happier with foreign forces just because richer governments can distribute goodies. This argument won’t buy support among the public there.
Washington’s spokespeople must be clear on the principles, seven or seventy years afterwards: the US removed the Taliban regime because this regime was responsible for the acts of the terror group al Qaeda, executor of the massacres in New York and Washington. The Taliban - under international law - had the opportunity to arrest al Qaeda leaders and dismantle their camps, but it didn’t. As such, the Greater Middle East audience must hear solid counter arguments coming out of America and the free world about this particular issue, not “explanations” about what the Coalition is doing now in Afghanistan. After the democratic elections in that country, the legitimate government is responsible for the presence and deeds of NATO and UN troops anyway. But In the war of ideas, no allegation should be allowed to fly unchecked.
Bin Laden alleged that the Taliban didn’t know about the operation, but he ignored the fact that the Jihadi regime and its spokespeople “blessed” the attacks afterward, and that they continue, even today, to do so in their media. Usama has forgotten that in one of his videotapes he boasted that even his close comrade Sleiman Abul Ghais didn’t know about it. But even though the preparation for the terror “operations” weren’t shared with all levels of power among the Taliban or even al Qaeda, the war against America has been declared since 1998. These are simple counter arguments but they need to be made in response to this statement by the leader of the War on Terror.
Future recruits will be fed with Bin Laden’s rhetoric about the innocence of his Taliban brothers and hence, we may find these arguments made by future suicide terrorists blasting against targets in European cities. “This is in response to your illegitimate and unjust attacks against Afghanistan,” would scream the Shaheed in his or her prepared videotape before they spread mayhem. A strong and direct response to today’s false arguments, delivered in Arabic via satellite channels, would have been the appropriate response, minutes after the al Jazeera airing. What is important is not how we satisfy our perception of a good image, but how we affect the perception of those who are about to be indoctrinated or recruited to the other side.
Back to Usama’s Euro concerns. In short, he is preparing the psychological terrain for an escalation on European soil. Remember Madrid. His cells struck the trains while claiming it was because of the unjust presence of Spanish troops in Iraq. It is very possible that future strikes in Europe would be accompanied with claims related to French, British, Spanish, Danish, Dutch and other military presence in that part of central Asia. The potential forthcoming attacks are being prepared now with al Qaeda propaganda.
Interestingly Bin Laden mentions Blair, Brown, Aznar and Sarkozy. While the first three past and current prime ministers have ordered troops into and within Iraq, the French President has inherited a previous military policy in Afghanistan. What links all these leaders in the mind of Bin Laden? In my estimate, it is not only the past; rather it is the future. The Jihadi supreme commander has been advised by his operational emirs and advisors in Europe that the fight is coming to that continent. Many combat Salafists are already deployed and preparing for violence in Britain, Spain, Scandinavia, Germany and the Benelux. The so-called youth gangs in French suburbs – manipulated by the radical clerics - are already in a state of war against the French state.
Global Jihad in Europe has begun. Al Qaeda wants to claim it, own it and boast about its coming spread. That’s what is on Bin Laden’s mind.
As a classic leader of Jihadism, he wants to warn beforehand that what is to come in Europe is “because” of its alliance with the US and its military presence in Afghanistan, an “occupied Muslim land.” In reality, the dice has already rolled: the Jihadists have already waged their campaign on that continent but the al Qaeda master wants to father it and widen it.
Dr Walid Phares is the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington and a visiting scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels. He is the author of The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracies.