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Bin Laden’s Message to the German People

25/09/2009

For a week now, rumours have been circulating about a new video message from Osama bin Laden. Journalists with sources deep within the German intelligence apparatus told me that the message was imminent only last week. Now, it seems to have arrived.

The intention is very clear: Bin Laden wants to influence, or at least change the dynamics, of the German elections, which will take place on Sunday.

In the video Bin Laden urges Europeans to withdraw from Muslim land. Germany is not mentioned specifically, but the timing of the release and the German subtitles suggest that the intended audience clearly is the German electorate.

This comes on the back of a number of German language videos that have been posted by Al Qaeda in the past weeks. They are all saying the same thing: vote for withdrawal, or we will blow you up!

Views about the significance and meaning of the video differ. Some believe that, if Al Qaeda were actually capable of launching an attack, they would simply do so – the fact that there have been many announcements but no action is evidence of Al Qaeda’s weakness.

Others, such as my friend Guido Steinberg at the Berlin based think tank SWP, are not so sure. Steinberg believes that Al Qaeda wouldn’t make such a fuss if there wasn’t any activity on the ground. In fact, I have it from good sources that the German authorities are concerned about three groups of potential plotters right now.

The parallels with the Madrid bombings in 2004 are clear, but shouldn’t be overrated. Back in 2004, Al Qaeda launched its attacks just three days before the national elections, and seemed to change the outcome of the vote.

The difference in the German case is that none of the major parties are in favour of withdrawal. Only the small Left Party wants to get out, but it seems nearly inconceivable that people will vote for them in great numbers. People, in other words, have no real choice when it comes to expressing their disapproval about Afghanistan.

Osama’s message, therefore, is unlikely to have the desired effect he hopes it will have.