A new tape from al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, broadcast by al-Jazeera and quickly authenticated by the CIA, marked the first time in a year the fugitive terrorist chief has surfaced. His statement, the full text of which is available from the Associated Press, repeated threats to attack the United States and asserted al-Qaeda is growing stronger in Iraq and around the world. Surprisingly, bin Laden also offered a conditional truce to the United States, which was quickly rejected by the White House.
The tape set off speculation about whether bin Laden’s message was a harbinger of an impending attack (PhilaInquirer), though counterterrorism officials say there is no immediate plan to raise the U.S. “threat level” in response (CBS News). Around the world, as Washington Post blogger Jefferson Morley notes, the impact of the broadcast appeared to depend on who heard it.
The tape was aired less than a week after a January 13 U.S. strike aimed at al-Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri (BBC) in which a Hellfire missile, fired by a CIA Predator drone, missed its target but angered Pakistanis (WashPost) by killing eighteen civilians. Pakistan’s Daily Times warned the attack leaves the delicate regional balance “tilted in favor of the terrorists,” and some observers wonder whether the timing of bin Laden’s tape release was an effort by to capitalize on anger in Pakistan (NYT).
The attacks cast a pall over the strained U.S.-Pakistani relationship (FT), which the Washington Post’s Jefferson Morley explains received a drubbing in Pakistan’s press. America’s image in the region had been on the rise thanks to U.S. aid to Pakistani earthquake victims. The missile strike seems to have undone this progress. Speaking at CFR, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said “after the attack...people were very angry...But then they also realize the U.S. is a big power and we need to work together.” The full transcript of his remarks is available here.