I should be blogging about radicalisation in Europe – a topic I have been looking at for many years – but it is Bin Laden’s new tape which has caught my imagination.
Assuming it really is Bin Laden – and all the experts seem to think so – the recording proves that Bin Laden is alive and able to communicate with the outside world.
Many questions remain unanswered, however. Where is Bin Laden? Why is it so difficult to find him? Does it matter?
I obviously don’t know where Bin Laden is. Over the years, people have tried to convince me of the wildest theories, ranging from Bin Laden sipping tea somewhere in India to him being locked away in a secret CIA prison in Morocco.
Needless to say, none of my informants could produce even the slightest shred of evidence to substantiate any of these claims.
Still the most plausible scenario is what a very, very senior American intelligence official told me eighteen months ago. Namely that Bin Laden is likely to be somewhere in the Pakistani region of Waziristan.
In his own words: ‘We haven’t stopped looking for him. We still do. But we haven’t had any signal or indication for a long while. It’s embarrassing, but we really don’t know where he is.’
Does it matter? I think it does.
Bin Laden is clearly no longer running Al Qaeda in operational terms. Nor is he the inspirational figure he once was. But he is still an important symbol.
He is the face of 9/11 – Al Qaeda’s one victory, its one moment of undisputed ‘glory’.
No one wants to back a loser. As Bin Laden himself put it: ‘When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.’
I am under no illusions, of course. The problem won’t be solved with Bin Laden’s capture or death.
But if Bin Laden was to be found and caught, the Al Qaeda brand – its mystique and sense of invincibility – would surely take a serious hit.