Osama bin Laden’s latest tape, entitled “From Osama to Obama.”
As reported in other media outlets, Osama bin Laden released a one-minute audio recording yesterday about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound plane last month. Addressed “from Osama to Obama,” here is the complete Open Source Center translation of the statement:
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. From Usama to Obama: Peace be upon the one who follows guidance. As for what follows: If our messages to you could be carried by words, we would not have delivered them by planes. The message we want to communicate to you through the plane of the hero, mujahid Umar Farouk, may God relieve him, is a confirmation of a previous message, which was delivered to you by the heroes of the 11th [of September] and which was repeated previously and afterward; namely, America will not dream of security until we experience it as a reality in Palestine. It is not fair that you should live peacefully while our brothers in Gaza are experiencing the most miserable living. Based on this, with the permission of God, our raids against you will continue as long as your support for the Israelis is continuing. Peace be upon the one who follows guidance.
I would like to make three points about this message. First, in analyzing al-Qaeda’s messaging, it is always important to consider the audience for which it is intended — and frequently the intended audience is different from that which is stated. Though this tape’s claim to be “from Osama to Obama” suggests that the audience is either the American president or Westerners more broadly, the themes it hits suggests that the actual intended audience is the Muslim world.
Second, some commentators have portrayed the tape as a claim of responsibility by al-Qaeda’s central leadership for Abdulmutallab’s attempted bombing. I think that under a more careful reading, the tape does not go that far. True, bin Laden refers to Abdulmutallab’s attack in the first-person plural possessive (“the message we want to communicate to you through the plane of the hero, mujahid Umar Farouk” and “our raids against you”), but this does not amount to a direct claim of responsibility by the group’s central leadership. The use of first-person plural possessive could indicate the broader al-Qaeda umbrella — under which fall such affiliate organizations as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, bin Laden uses a first-person plural pronoun in the same tape to refer to the Ummah more broadly rather than al-Qaeda specifically when he says “America will not dream of security until we experience it as a reality in Palestine.”
Third, bin Laden’s reference to the Palestinian cause is part of a line of argumentation responding to the accusation that while al-Qaeda frequently speaks of the Palestinians, it has neither done anything for them nor undertaken concrete action against Israel. Bin Laden is framing actions taken against the United States as inherently linked to the situation that the Palestinians face. The way he portrays Abdulmutallab’s “raid” is meant to refute the charge of al-Qaeda’s indifference toward the Palestinian cause by holding out terrorism directed at the US as directly responsive.