The Significance of Bin Laden’s New Audio Statement

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 4

On January 19, 2006, al-Jazeera Television broadcast a new statement by al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. The statement was bin Laden’s first since October 31, 2004. The U.S. government announced that the voice on the tape almost certainly is that of bin Laden (Bloomberg, January 20, 2006). Al-Jazeera speculates that the tape was recorded in December 2005 (al-Jazeera, January 20, 2006). As always, bin Laden was calm and dispassionate, reminding the American people and the West that the mujahideen cannot be deterred, saying, “He who swims in the ocean does not fear the rain … you won’t be able to prevent us from dying in dignity.” Bin Laden gave a clear indication that preparations for more al-Qaeda attacks in the U.S. are complete [1].

Assessing the War

The content of the statement is familiar and fascinating. With what has been described as his familiar low, reedy voice, bin Laden promises that the worldwide, al-Qaeda-led Sunni insurgency will continue. He argues that in the current marquee theaters of the insurgency—Iraq and Afghanistan—”our [the Islamists’] situation is getting better and better, and your [America’s] situation is the opposite.” Rejecting U.S. claims of progress in Iraq, bin Laden said “that the war in Iraq is bubbling up without end … [and] Iraq has become a point of attraction [for would-be Muslim insurgents] and [the] restorer of [our] energies.” In Afghanistan, bin Laden explained, “the operations … are continuing in our favor, all praise be to Allah.” In the statement, bin Laden also makes a selective use of domestic U.S. polls to claim Americans oppose the war in Iraq and that “the wise among you know that Bush does not have a plan to reach his alleged victory in Iraq.”

Speaking to Americans

After offering this positive assessment of the al-Qaeda-led insurgency, bin Laden moves to the two-part heart of his message. He provides another warning to Americans that they will be attacked inside the United States if U.S. policies in the Islamic world remain unchanged, and, for the first time, he offers a truce. Implicitly referring to his October 31, 2004 speech, which he said was a final warning to Americans, bin Laden said, “I was not intending to speak [again] about this subject. … What motivated me to speak out is [sic] the repeated fallacies made up by your president Bush…”

Bin Laden then specifically focused on the Bush Administration’s oft-repeated argument that the U.S. must fight al-Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan to prevent bin Laden’s fighters from entering the United States to conduct attacks. “The results of your polls show that an overwhelming majority of you want the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq,” bin Laden said, “but he [Bush] has opposed this wish and said that withdrawing troops sends the wrong message to opponents, that ‘it is better to fight them [Muslims] on their land than their fighting us [Americans] on our land.'” Americans know that this is a false assertion, bin Laden argued, but its falsity is “the one thing that went over his [President Bush’s] head…” Also, “at the heart of polls calling for withdrawing the troops,” bin Laden claimed, is the belief of Americans that “It is better that we [Americans] don’t fight Muslims on their lands, and they don’t fight us on ours.”

Speaking past the Bush Administration to the American people, bin Laden agrees with the poll results he cited and says that it would be best for Muslims and Americans not to fight each other. In this context, he offers Americans “a long-term truce on fair conditions that we adhere to.” In making such an offer, bin Laden followed the ancient and recent traditions of Islamic history, as well as his own practice. Bin Laden offered the truce because he believed a cease-fire, rather than war, is temporarily in the immediate interests of Muslims. A truce should be declared, bin Laden explained, “So both sides can enjoy security and stability under this truce so we [Muslims] can build Iraq and Afghanistan which have been destroyed by war.” In making the proposal, bin Laden followed a model set by the Prophet Mohammad during his struggle to establish the Islamic religion, by Saladin during his years of war with the Christian crusaders and by the Afghan insurgents during their decade-long war against the Soviet Union.

Bin Laden also mirrored his own past behavior. In 2004, he offered a cease-fire to the European countries so al-Qaeda and its allies could concentrate on the war against the United States. The Europeans somewhat contemptuously refused bin Laden’s offer and afterward al-Qaeda staged attacks in London. In all of these cases, the offers were not made as proposals for a permanent peace. According to bin Laden, there can be no permanent peace with infidels, only truces or cease-fires for time periods that benefit Muslims and prepare them to resume fighting.

Al-Qaeda Prepares for Another Round

For the United States, the most prudent conclusion to draw from bin Laden’s new statement is that al-Qaeda has fully completed preparations for more attacks in the United States. Bin Laden chose to speak at this time because he wanted to clearly tell Americans that al-Qaeda can attack in the U.S. whether or not it is engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq. That he intended the warning to be clear for Americans to understand is shown by the fact that the statement contained even fewer quotations from the Quran and the Hadith than did the statement of October 31, 2004, which, until then, was the sparest of all bin Laden’s speeches in terms of such quotations. Adding to the alarming nature of this warning was bin Laden’s pointed reminder that the “mujahideen, all praise be to Allah, have managed repeatedly to penetrate all security measures adopted by the unjust allied countries. The proof of this is the explosions you have seen in the capitals [Madrid and London] of the European nations who are in this aggressive coalition [in Iraq].”

Bin Laden’s message also was meant to resonate positively across the Islamic world, and it is likely to do so. Bin Laden’s claim that “If you [Americans] are sincere in your desire for peace and security, we have answered you,” will be seen by Muslims, according to the editors of Pakistan’s Daily Times, as consonant with “the classical Islamic tradition of warfare … [in which Muslims] offer a truce to an adversary before an armed conflict. This was meant to give the adversary a chance to avoid a conflict” (Daily Times, January 21, 2006). Not only is the warning to Americans keeping with the Prophet’s injunction that the enemy be warned before being attacked, but it is also in keeping with bin Laden’s three-plus year effort to make sure the Muslim world is aware that he has gone the extra mile to avoid having to stage additional attacks in the United States.

Perhaps Pakistan’s Daily Times has given Americans the most concise bottom-line for bin Laden’s statement: “Al-Qaeda seems to be preparing for another round.”

Notes

1. Sheikh Osama bin Laden: “There is No Shame in This Solution [Statement of January 19, 2006],” http://www.jihadunspun.com, January 20, 2006. All subsequent quotes, unless otherwise marked, originate from this source.