On May 24, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden issued a speech via an audio file presented by the “al-Sahab Foundation for Media Production,” which has issued authentic statements from al-Qaeda in the past. The statement was posted and then quickly circulated around forums such as http://www.la7odood.com/vb/index.php, which provided numerous links to the audio file on public file sharing sites.
The brief statement opens by clearing Zacarias Moussaoui of responsibility in the attacks of September 11. Bin Laden says, “The truth is that he has no connection whatsoever with the events of September 11th, and I am certain of what I say because I was responsible for entrusting the 19 brothers—Allah have mercy upon them—with those raids, and I did not assign brother Zacarias to be with them on that mission.”
Bin Laden argues that a false confession was coerced out of Moussaoui, as he has not been in “his normal [mental] state.” Second on the agenda in his statement was clearing the detainees at Guantanamo Bay of any role in the September 11 attacks, or even of any involvement with al-Qaeda, saying that many of them do not even agree with the tactics being used by the organization against the United States.
Aside from reminding the world of bin Laden’s presence, and relevance, by discussing the recent conviction to life imprisonment of Moussaoui, the statement is clearly also intended to portray bin Laden as taking responsibility for the September 11 attacks, while simultaneously laying blame on the United States for falsely imprisoning and mistreating fellow Muslims who are not part of al-Qaeda. This is consistent with bin Laden’s approach to leading the movement—to focus the blame for Muslims’ oppression and hardship on the United States in order to gain popular support and rally Muslims globally.
Also noteworthy is the detail and directness in which bin Laden discusses the planning of the attacks, making clear that he was aware of the details of the “mission,” and that he “was responsible for entrusting the 19 brothers” with carrying out the attacks. This is clearly a change in tone for bin Laden in describing September 11, whereas he was previously more elusive and emphasized divine wrath against the United States for the actions against Muslims.
Toward the end of the statement, bin Laden mentions the arrest of those “working in the relief agencies, like Abu Abdul Aziz al-Mutrafi, or those working in the media, like Sami al-Hajj and Tayseer Alouni.” Here, the reference to Tayseer Alouni—the al-Jazeera journalist who was arrested for suspicion of membership in al-Qaeda—may also suggest that bin Laden will no longer deliver his audio tapes to media outlets like al-Jazeera by a series of couriers, which many analysts have suggested is the best way to track his whereabouts (Terrorism Focus, February 21).
In many aspects, however, the presentation and production value of the audio statement are of greater importance than its content (the full audio/video statement can be downloaded at the following link: http://www.jamestown.org/docs/OBL-24May06.rmvb). As one can see, the audio file is accompanied by a photo of the al-Qaeda leader with English translations in subtitles throughout the brief talk. It also bears the statement’s title (Shahadat al-Haqq, a Testimony to the Truth) in English, and includes a logo for al-Sahab. The style of the audio file is immediately reminiscent of clips from the most popular Arab media channels. It is clear that this is a step toward legitimizing the appearance of bin Laden (and second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, whose statements have also been produced by al-Sahab) by presenting their communications in the style of other mainstream media outlets.
Considering the production capabilities and increased control of the public communications process by using al-Sahab media, bin Laden seems to be at an advantage both in terms of public relations and his ability to operate his al-Qaeda network.