Bin Laden accuses Obama of planting seeds of hatred
CAIRO — Just as President Obama arrived in the Middle East, the Al Jazeera television news broadcast an audiotape on Wednesday that it said was Osama bin Laden condemning Mr. Obama for planting new seeds of “hatred and vengeance toward Americans.”
The message focused on President Obama’s decision to step up pressure on extremists in Pakistan. The speaker specifically blamed the president for the Pakistani military’s drive to retake an area in the Swat Valley that had recently come under the control of Taliban forces. He blamed Mr. Obama for the “one million Muslims” who have had to flee their homes because of the fighting. United Nations and Pakistani officials estimate that as many as three million people have been displaced by the conflict.
“Obama has followed the footsteps of his predecessor in increasing animosity towards Muslims and increasing enemy fighters and establishing long-term wars,” the recording said. “So the American people should get ready to reap the fruits of what the leaders of the White House have planted throughout the coming years and decades.”
The recording, if verified, is a signal that Mr. bin Laden, the fugitive leader of Al Qaeda, remains alive and in touch with current events, and that he retains effective channels of communication with the outside world. The message was released one day after Mr. bin Laden’s lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahri, issued his own audiotape condemning the president.
Many groups with a stake in the future of the Middle East and in relations between the Muslim community and the United States are attempting to ride the wave of attention to the president’s visit. Human rights groups, democracy advocates, pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups have all tried to force their agendas to the forefront as the president passes through.
Al Qaeda, however, easily rose to the top of the local news cycle here — especially with what seems to be the recorded voice of Mr. bin Laden, who continues to capture the imagination of those who revile him as well as those who see him as an outlaw hero. It appeared to be the first recording attributed to the Al Qaeda leader since January, when Al Jazeera aired an audio message attributed to him during the Israeli offensive in Gaza and the last days of former President George W. Bush’s term.
“He is of course asserting his ability to be a part of daily political events,” said Amr el-Shobaky, an expert on Islamic movements with the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a government funded research institute here. “He is twisting reality and blaming this new administration for things it is not responsible for so that the new administration would look as extreme and no different from the previous Bush administration.”
The recording released Wednesday said that the Pakistani authorities were doing Washington’s bidding when they prevented “implementing Sharia law by fighting and killing and through bombings and destruction.”
The recording continued: “Obama and his administration have planted new seeds to increase hatred and revenge from America. The number of those seeds is the same as the number of those harmed and displaced from Swat Valley and the tribal regions in North and South Waziristan and the number of their sympathizers.”
This is not the first time Al Qaeda has attacked Mr. Obama. In a blunt personal attack on the incoming president in November, Mr. Zawahri painted Mr. Obama as a hypocrite and a traitor to his race, comparing him unfavorably with ”honorable black Americans” like Malcolm X, the 1960s black Muslim leader, and referring to him as a “house Negro,” using a direct translation of a term Malcolm X himself used.
The latest recording and the attention it provoked served as a reminder of what is at stake as the president tries to recalibrate America’s image throughout the Muslim world. This trip, and the speech he is scheduled to give in Cairo tomorrow, are part of a broad diplomatic push that has included a speech in Turkey, an appearance on an Arabic language satellite news channel and a video message sent to Iran during Persian New Year celebrations.
“This is an important indicator as to how much we need this new administration to exert more effort in marginalizing Osama Bin Laden’s discourse so that he is not able to exploit popular causes towards violence,” Mr. Shobaky said.
The president faces a challenge as he tries appear sensitive to the Islamic world, respectful of the region’s leaders, and yet not appear to turn a blind eye to the human rights violations and autocratic practices the constrain the lives of average people. That is one area that Al Qaeda continues to try to exploit.
“If Obama comes to Egypt he will be received by its torturers, its thieves, and its corrupt who turned Egypt into an international station of torture in America’s war against Islam,” Mr. Zawahri said.
The president plans to spend the night in Riyadh, the Saudi capital and is scheduled to arrive in Cairo on Thursday morning.