Bin Laden's message on Palestine resonates

By SHAUN WATERMAN, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor  |  Jan. 15, 2009 at 2:47 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Osama bin Laden's latest public pronouncement, addressing the continuing Israeli military action in Gaza, illustrates the extent to which the globally televised suffering of the Palestinian people -- and perceptions about the American role in perpetuating it -- are undermining U.S. efforts to defeat al-Qaida.

In the 22-minute audio message posted Wednesday on an extremist Web site, bin Laden excoriates the leaders of the Arab and Islamic nations for failing to liberate Palestine -- and, crucially, the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of Islam's holiest sites. But he argues the real reason for that failure is that those leaders are beholden to the United States.

"In every capital (of the Muslim world) today, there is a Bremer -- whether overt or covert," he says, referring to L. Paul Bremer, the former U.S. proconsul in Baghdad, "along with an (Iyad) Allawi (the former U.S.-backed interim prime minister of Iraq) who executes his orders."

Bin Laden spoke in Arabic, and the as-Sahab Institute, al-Qaida's media arm, did not, as it sometimes has in the past, provide an English translation. United Press International used a translation provided by the Nine Eleven Finding Answers Foundation on its Web site.

Bin Laden says the timing of the Israeli airstrikes and ground offensive in Gaza, which have now killed more than 1,000 Palestinians -- at least half of them, by most accounts, civilians -- was dictated by the coming transition in Washington.

"The dramatic and rapid decline of U.S. power," he says, referring to the economic meltdown the United States faces, "was one of the important motivations for the Israelis to launch this brutal attack on Gaza, in a desperate attempt to make use of the last days of the two terms of (President George) Bush and the neoconservatives."

Bush, he adds, "created a grave inheritance for his successor, and left him with two unattractive options. … If he withdraws from the war (in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere), it will be a military defeat. If he continues it, he will drown in the economic crisis."

Bin Laden quotes Vice President-elect Joseph Biden as saying the economic crisis "is worse than we expected."

"Today," he continues, "the United States is staggering under the attacks of the mujahedin and their consequences. ... It is drowning in a financial crisis."

One of the first consequences of this, bin Laden argues, is that Israel "stands to lose one of its most critical lifelines and fundamentals of its existence."

The need to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation and the failure of Islamic leaders to accomplish this have been a constant refrain in bin Laden's rhetoric for more than a decade, according to al-Qaida expert Peter Bergen. Bergen notes that in bin Laden's first ever public statement -- back in August 1996 -- the al-Qaida leader said he felt the loss of Jerusalem "like a burning fire in my intestines."

"So intense are bin Laden's feelings about the Palestinian issue," continues Bergen, citing the findings of the Sept. 11 Commission, that he tried to get the operational commander of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to move forward the timing of the suicide hijackings so they would coincide with a planned visit to the United States by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Bergen attributes this intensity to a personal connection bin Laden feels to the al-Aqsa Mosque, which his father's construction company helped restore in the 1960s.

But the real reason, surely, is that the al-Qaida leader knows how deeply and strongly the suffering of the Palestinian people -- continually broadcast in all its bloody horror by Arabic-language news TV channels -- resonates with Muslims around the world.

"Muslims are united in sympathy for you after what they have seen and heard," bin Laden tells the Palestinians, adding that extremist fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan "are also being bombarded by the same aircraft, and they lose their dearest family members in the same way that you have."

It is not just bin Laden who sees this sympathetic connection as a key to the success of his project, according to Marc Sageman, a psychologist who has studied the radicalization process now widely understood as the key to extremist recruitment.

The sense of "moral outrage" created by "large moral violations globally such as … Muslims being killed in Gaza right now" is a key factor, Sageman told a conference at the Cato Institute in Washington this week.

"This is not about what people think, but how they feel," said Sageman of radicalization, adding that the outrage "activates a sense of collective identity" that can be exploited by extremist recruiters, or lead to so-called self-radicalization, for instance on the Internet.

"It has to be framed a certain way," said Sageman. "The frame right now is very simple: This is a war against Islam.

"This is going to cause a problem," he concluded.

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