Osama bin Laden at the top of his game

On 27 October 2010, Al-Jazirah Television broadcast a new audiotape by Osama bin Laden meant to exploit the Muslim world’s growing anger toward France specifically, and against Europe generally. Defending the recent kidnapping of five French nationals in Niger, bin Laden said the action was an appropriate response to France’s ongoing intervention in the affairs of Muslims in North and West Africa; its persecution of Muslim women in France via its ban on burqa wearing; and the presence of nearly 4,000 French troops in Afghanistan. Bin Laden warned Paris it is foolish to think that France’s anti-Muslim actions will go unanswered by al-Qaeda and other mujahideen. “The equation is very clear and simple,” bin Laden said, stressing, as he always does, the justice of reciprocal treatment in wartime, “the fault lies with the one who initiates [the hostilities] … as you kill, you will be killed; as you abduct, so shall you be abducted; as you ruin our [Muslim] security, so shall we ruin your security.”

The new message is vintage bin Laden in several ways. With the United States and Britain, France has always been high on al-Qaeda’s target list because of its discriminatory treatment of French Muslims; its support Algiers against the Algerian insurgents; its military aid to West African regimes; and its presence in Afghanistan. In addition, since 2006 bin Laden and al-Qaeda have highlighted their intention to bring the jihad to the Niger-Nigeria-Gulf-of-Guinea area to “liberate” the region’s Muslims from the anti-Islamic policies that Europe’s governments force their “agent regimes” in West Africa to apply. And as he has done regarding the Arab Peninsula’s energy resources, bin Laden notes that the oil, uranium, and other natural resources of West Africa are the property of the Muslim ummah and that the mujahideen intend to end the West’s control of them.

While using familiar themes, the timing of bin Laden’s message is meant to exploit several current realities that favor al-Qaeda and other jihadis:

  • France and most western European states are on a high state of alert because of credible intelligence that bin Laden has authorized Mumbai-like attacks in their cities. With this threat already on the table, bin Laden is trying to enhance fears among publics, politicians, and security services and force them to continue high levels of counter-terrorism spending.
  • Bin Laden intends the message to praise and spur on fighters who make up al-Qaeda’s forces, and those of its allies, in North and West Africa. The past few years have seen al-Qaeda-in-the-Islamic-Mahgreb (AQIM) continue its insurgency in Algeria, as well as expand its operational reach in Mauritania, Mali, and elsewhere in West Africa. Al-Qaeda also has gotten a pledge of loyalty from a growing Islamist militant group in Nigeria known as Boko Haram. Bin Laden’s message signals al-Qaeda’s support for these groups’ activities; stresses its intention to continue inspiring jihadist activities in West Africa and across the continent; and bears witness to al-Qaeda’s growing martial capabilities in West Africa.
  • Bin Laden also highlights NATO’s deteriorating position in Afghanistan and reminds France and other NATO states that they will all pay a price for occupying a Muslim country. This aspect of the talk is fully in keeping with bin Laden’s quite successful post-9-11 effort to strip away countries from the coalitions Washington led into Iraq and Afghanistan. In this message, he refers to the latter “Bush‘s accursed war.”

And while bin Laden does not focus on the United States in this message, its release six days before U.S. mid-term elections is not a coincidence. Bin Laden’s words are meant to remind U.S. voters that he is still alive and al-Qaeda is quite viable; that the Obama administration is, like Bush’s, losing the Afghan war; and that the war — with the Iraq war — has pushed the United States to “the verge of bankruptcy in all major areas, and soon it will go back beyond the Atlantic Ocean, Allah willing.”

Less noticeable to the public, but surely most worrying to U.S. policymakers is the message’s clear indication that al-Qaeda’s presence and strength is growing in the oil-rich Gulf-of-Guinea region, from which America will be importing 20-percent of its crude in the next several years.

Finally, for those who argue bin Laden is irrelevant, French Defense Herve Morin unexpectedly said on 28 October 2010 that “our troops may leave Afghanistan next year … we can transfer responsibilities to the Afghans in 2011.” This positive response to bin Laden’s threat is even quicker than the Spanish government’s cave-in after the Madrid bombings.

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.