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From Usama to Obama: Reading the Hidden Messages

25/01/2010

From Usama to Obama, if our letters could be sent to you by words, we would not have sent it by plans!” By those words Usama Bin Laden (UBL) started his short audio message to the American President. Despite the short length, the contents of the message were quite salient. This was one of the rare time that Bin Laden himself takes direct responsibly for an operation organised and executed by a branch of al-Qaida. By doing that, he wanted to say that after eight years since 9/11, he is still an organizational leader, not only just a spiritual ‘godfather’ for global jihadists. This brings to mind the statement of General Stanley McChrystal to the BBC last December: “I don’t think that we can finally defeat al-Qaida until Bin Laden is captured or killed.”

Another message was clearly demonstrated by the focus on Palestine. Al-Qaida intends to capitalize on the current increasingly frustrating conditions in the Middle East Peace Process in general and in the Gaza Strip in particular. Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan were all missing in Bin Laden’s new message. Palestine was not; Bin Laden stressed that the operation was for it and about it. He repeated his old and probably favourite recruiting statement: “the Americans will not live in peace, until the Palestinians do.”

The current conditions in the Middle East features a stalemate in negotiations between the PA and Netanyahu’s government, a ceasefire imposed by Hamas in Gaza, a blockade imposed by Israel and the Mubarak regime in Egypt on Gaza, expanding settlement activities in the West Bank, a failure of the US envoy in the region, and a confession by President Obama that he underestimated the obstacles to peace in the Middle East. In other words, this is a good time for al-Qaida’s recruitment activities. And the chances for recruitment can be significantly higher if the rhetorical focus is on Palestine. Bin Laden did not wait too long to capitalize.

A third message that can be read is that al-Qaida is continuing and officially adopting decentralization as its strategy in 2010. Branches, cells, or individuals may be self- or organizationally recruited. They will operate either by orders from al-Qaida Central or will self-activate. In the latter case, the centre will take responsibility for the action and it will be accredited to al-Qaida. Basically, we are back to 2001!

A final message is about al-Qaida’s resilience. After each defeat, there is a quick recovery. The defeat in Afghanistan (2001-2002) was followed by a re-emergence in the Afghan-Pakistan border regions (2004-Present). Other defeats in Saudi Arabia (2004-05) and Iraq (2007-09) were followed by resurgences in Algeria (2007), Somalia (2009) and Yemen (2009). The ‘resilience’ was a clear message conveyed by Bin Laden: “our attacks will continue as long as there a US support for Israel.” Eight years after 9/11, al-Qaida’s leader still has the will and the capacity to continue the terror campaign and still lacks the desire for changing the rhetoric, the ideology, and the behaviour.