Participants to a jihadist forum have been troubled by another scare story that bin Laden has been arrested. Iranian websites, apparently quoting American officials, said that Osama bin Laden had been arrested in the beginning of February by Iranian forces, while moving along the border between Pakistan and Iran. Speculation that the arrest was kept quiet so that Iran might retain a bargaining chip to stave off possible military action from the United States was dismissed on February 21 by Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh, who denied the story. The failure to date to capture bin Laden has provoked a series of wishful thinking. Almost precisely a year ago the same story emerged, only this time with the Iranians claiming that U.S. and Pakistan agents were the captors, and that news of the arrest had been suppressed pending last year’s U.S. elections.
Last November Iran was again in the crosshairs, with some speculative media reports of bin Laden having been in Iran since July 2002. This, too, was put down at the time to U.S. electioneering. The scare this year was given added cogency for the mujahideen by the recent distribution of audio and video messages featuring Ayman al-Zawahiri without bin Laden. In addition, the lack of commentary on the matter by al-Qaeda itself raised anxieties for the participants on the al-Ma’sada forum (www.alm2sda.net). “The news is false, God permitting,” wished one contributor, “I hope that the Shaykh will issue a message so that we may be reassured about him”. On another forum, al-Qal’ah (qal3ah.net), a participant emphasized the need for such a reassurance: “we are in dire need to hear a new word from Shaykh Osama, particularly as he has previously done so; and the present situation is no less dangerous.” On al-Ma’sada one contributor declared his frustration with the silence of al-Qaeda in general, hoping “that the Shaykh would declare to the world his viewpoint on the events in Lebanon following the death of Hariri … and the likelihood of an attack on Syria by the Americans (God curse them) … and the role that the mujahideen should play in the event of the outbreak of a war.”
Others on the al-Qal’ah forum were dismissive: “the Shaykh does not make appearances to deny silly rumors like this!” Indeed, any more messages from al-Qaeda “will only diminish their influence on all levels, on the information, political, even economical level … Shaykh Ayman al-Zawahiri’s last message appeared only a short time after another one from him, and this may have diminished its influence.” Yet there were others who prepared themselves for the worst: “If the lions have been captured, there are [other] lions and cubs at their back to take up their work … May God not permit it, but if he is captured, there are a thousand more bin Ladens!”