INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR: PAPER NO.505
An audio message purporting to be from Osma bin Laden has been broadcast by the Al Jazeera TV channel on March 14,2009. The messageis believed to be authentic. This is the second audio message of bin Laden got disseminated by Al Qaeda's propaganda set-up this year. Theearlier one was disseminated in January through the Internet.
2.The main theme of both the messages is the fighting between the Israeli security forces and the people of Gaza. In his latest message,bin Laden has described the actions of the Istaeli security forces in Gaza as Gaza's holocaust and has accused some Arab leaders of beingcomplicit with the Israelis in their operations in Gaza. He has called for renewed support to the anti-US jihad in Iraq and for a jihad inJordan and in the area administered by the Palestine Authority as a prelude to the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem with its Al Aqsamosque from the control of Israel. The message is critical of Hassan Nasrallah of the Hizbollah too and says: "There is no difference in thisissue between Hassan and Hosni (Mubarak) and the rest of the Arab idol-kings who have besieged our family there (in Palestine). "
3. It also accuses Jews and Christians "of carrying out the murder of our brothers in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Waziristan, Somalia,Kashmir, the Philippines and Chechnya." It projects Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and the Islamic Maghreb as among "the open fieldsof jihad.". It says: "I ask Allah to guide us to help the religion and perform Jihad in His Path, so that we liberate the Muslim countries,especially Iraq, and set off from there to Palestine." What the latest message seeks to emphasise is that Jerusalem cannot be liberatedfrom the control of the Israelis without first liberating Iraq, Jordan and the areas under the control of the Palestine Authority. He sees this as a long-term plan and recommends the constitution of a high-power committee of respected religious scholars and others to advise onhow to plan and carry on the struggle for the liberation of Jerusalem and "all of Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the sea."
4. bin Laden's second message of the year has come at a time when President Barack Obama has continued with the former PresidentGeorge Bush's policy of attacking with unmanned Predator aircraft suspected hide-outs of Al Qaeda and the Taliban---both the Afghan andthe Pakistani branches--- in Pakistani territory. A new development since Obama assumed office on January 20,2009, is the geographicspread of the attacks from the two Waziristans and the Bajaur Agency of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to the KurramAgency of the FATA, which has a large Shia population as well as a large number of Sunni Pashtuns from Afghanistan, many of whomsupport either the Afghan and Pakistani Talibans or Gulbuddin Heckmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami (HEI).
5. Since Obama took over as the President, there have already been five Predator strikes out of a total of about 30 since Asif Ali Zardari tookover as the President last September. Two of these strikes have been on suspected hide-outs or training camps in the Kurram Agency.These strikes since September last year have been increasingly accurate. While most of them did not kill any high-value Al Qaeda or Talibanor HEI operative, they did kill mostly terrorists supporting the Taliban or the HEI or Al Qaeda. The collateral deaths of innocent civilians wassmall in number. None of these strikes led to any large public demonstration against the US by the locals, thereby indicating that most ofthose killed were terrorists .
6. Those monitoring Pakistani blogs and chat rooms in order to see how those frequenting them react to these Predator attacks wouldhave noticed that, interestingly, whereas in the past, criticism of the Predator strikes was very virulent, it is less so now. One could evensee remarks indicating that many of those posting their reactions do not mind the Predator strikes provided they kill only foreign terroristsmisusing the hospitality of the Pashtuns. There are no signs of the turning of opinion in favour of the Americans, who are still dislikedstrongly, but there are some signs of an "Arab fatigue"----- meaning being fed up with the Arab members of Al Qaeda who are operating in thePashtun belt. However, it is difficult to say whether this "Arab fatigue" is also among the Pashtuns, who have given shelter to Al Qaedaterrorists or is confined to non-Pashtuns living outside the Pashtun belt.
7. The improvement in the flow of human intelligence, which is contributing to the improving success rate of the Predator strikes, and theincreasing number of Pashtuns---some of them Shias--- being killed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on suspicion of being US spiesindicate that after nearly six years of not coming forward with intelligence which could be useful to the US, there are elements now, whichare prepared to take the risk of passing on intelligence to the US. This also speaks of a certain Arab fatigue.
8.Al Qaeda is also nervous about talks of secret contacts between the US and some Taliban elements through the intermediary of theSaudi rulers and officials and about the comments emanating from President Barack Obama and Defence Secretary Robert Gates about the US having an open mind on the question of a possible dialogue with moderate elements in the Taliban. In his message of February 22,2009,titled " From Kabul To Mogadishu", Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No.2 to bin Laden, has poured scorn over reports of a possible dialogue andridiculed hopes expressed in the US that it should be possible to drive a wedge between the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
9. Zawahiri said: " O defiant Muslim Afghan people, it is your right to take pride in your sons the Taliban and take pride in Mullah MohammadOmar Mujahid who told the tyrants and criminals---no, we will not hand over a Muslim to an infidel--- and then continued to wage jihad against the Crusaders and their aides and here are the good omens of victory beginning to appear on the horizon. O defiant Muslim Afghanpeople, take part with your brothers and sons the Taliban in the jihad against the American Crusader occupation, which insulted theProphet, violated the sanctity of the Quran and descecrated the soil of Afghanistan."
10. Despite the increase in the flow of intelligence and in the number of successful Predator strikes, none of the over 30 strikes made sinceSeptember last has come anywhere near threatening even remotely bin Laden and Zawahiri. It is apparent from the damage inflicted by thesuccessful strikes that most of the correct information has been about the training camps of the Taliban and the Uzbecks. Some Arabs, whohappened to be present in those camps without the Americans being aware of it, got killed, but they were not the specific targets of thestrikes.
11. The Americans are still groping in the dark in their hunt for bin Laden and Zawahiri. They have not yet been able to find a source whowould be prepared to betray them just as an Iraqi source betrayed Saddam Hussein. None of the reports from reliable Pakistani sources about the Predator strikes indicated that either bin Laden or Zawahiri was anywhere near the place attacked. It is quite likely that binLaden and Zawahiri are either permanently living in a bunker guarded by their Arab bodyguards and avoiding any movement or they areliving in a populated area of the North-West Frontier Province, which is unlikely to be attacked by the Predators due to US fears of causinglarge civilian casualties.
12. The Tajiks of the former Northern Alliance, who have a grudge against bin Laden for having killed Ahmed Shah Masood shortly before9/11, might be useful assets in the hunt for bin Laden, but it is not clear whether the Americans are trying to use them. Neither the Talibannor the Pakistani Army and ISI are likely to betray bin Laden. Other ways of getting at him and Zawahiri have to be explored. (15-3-09)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )