One counter-terrorism expert close to the incoming administration team said the message showed al-Qaida had been put on the defensive by Obama's victory. The "election has taken the wind out of al-Qaida's sails in much of the Islamic world," said Richard Clarke, "because it demonstrates America's renewed commitment to multiculturalism, human rights and international law."
Clarke, a former senior counter-terrorism official who worked in both the Clinton and Bush White Houses and is considered a possible member of Obama's national security team, added, "By returning to American values the world admires, Obama sets al-Qaida back enormously in the battle of ideas, the ideological struggle that determines whether al-Qaida will continue to have significant support in the Islamic world."
In the 11-and-a-half minute video, posted on extremist Web forums Wednesday, al-Qaida's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called Obama "the direct opposite of honorable black Americans" like Malcolm X, who changed his name to Malik el-Shabazz after converting to Islam.
"You were born to a Muslim father," Zawahiri said, addressing himself to the president-elect, "but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims, and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim to be Christian, in order to climb the rungs of leadership in America."
The video, which includes audio of Zawahiri speaking in Arabic with English subtitles, includes still photographs and video clips of Malcolm X, and a photograph of Obama wearing a traditional Jewish religious skullcap during a visit to Jerusalem's Wailing Wall.
"In you and in (former Secretary of State) Colin Powell, (current Secretary of State Condoleezza) Rice and your likes, the words of Malcolm X, may Allah have mercy on him, concerning 'house negroes' are confirmed," said Zawahiri, according to the subtitles. In the Arabic audio, he uses the term "abd al-beit," which translates as "house servant" or "house slave."
Malcolm X used the phrase "house negro" to criticize African-Americans who rejected his Black Nationalist philosophy. "There were two kinds of slaves, the house negro and the field negro. The house negroes -- they lived in the house with master, they dressed pretty good, they ate good … and they loved the master more than the master loved himself," he said in a speech in 1963.
In Wednesday's video, the first from a top al-Qaida leader in two months, Zawahiri addressed himself at one point to those he called "the world's weak and oppressed."
"I tell them," he said, "America has put on a new face, but its heart full of hate, mind drowning in greed, and spirit which spreads evil, murder, repression and despotism continue to be the same as always."
Zawahiri said the new administration will "continue to be captive to the same criminal American mentality toward the world and toward the Muslims," adding that Obama's promise to redeploy U.S. troops from Iraq to Afghanistan "is a policy which was destined for failure before it was born."
"It appears that you don't know anything about … the history of Afghanistan and its free and defiant Muslim people," continued Zawahiri, urging the president-elect to "remember the fate of Bush and Pervez Musharraf, and the fate of the Soviets and British before them."
"Be aware," he concluded, "that the dogs of Afghanistan have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious, so send thousands after thousands to them."
Zawahiri also said the choice of Obama over Republican candidate John McCain, who had promised to keep U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years if necessary, was "the American people's admission of defeat in Iraq."
"The American people, by electing Obama, declared its anxiety and apprehension about the future toward which the policy of the likes of Bush is leading it, and so it decided to support someone calling for withdrawal from Iraq," he said, according to the subtitles.
Another former Clinton-era national security official said the comments about Iraq were "an effort to deflect attention from al-Qaida's own problems there."
"The group grossly overplayed its hand," said Daniel Benjamin, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, "and its brutality alienated lots of Iraqis, including Sunnis who were then prepared to cooperate with the U.S. forces."
Suppose September 11 never happened
The politics of revenge