Bin Laden takes on capitalism
Appearing in a video message for the first time in nearly three years, Osama bin Laden tells the American people to reject their capitalist way of life and embrace Islam to end the Iraq war, or his followers will “escalate the killing and fighting against you.”
“This is our duty, and our brothers are carrying it out, and I ask God to grant them resolve and victory,” the Al Qaeda leader said in the politically laced video, which was aired widely Friday on the Internet and TV.
The video apparently was made by Al Qaeda’s media wing As-Sahab to be released in concurrence with the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon next week.
If confirmed as authentic, it would be the Al Qaeda leader’s first video communique since just before the U.S. presidential election in 2004. In that missive, Bin Laden also made a veiled threat to the American people, saying that they could save themselves from violence by not supporting a crackdown on his Al Qaeda network.
President Bush, in Australia for the annual summit of Asian Pacific leaders, called the video message “a reminder about the dangerous world in which we live.”
“I find it interesting that on the tape, Iraq was mentioned, which is a reminder that Iraq is a part of this war against extremists,” Bush said as he concluded a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “If Al Qaeda bothers to mention Iraq, it’s because they want to achieve their objectives in Iraq, which is to drive attacks and develop a safe haven.”
Bush said it remained clear that Al Qaeda wanted to launch new attacks on the United States.
“Therefore it’s important that we show resolve and determination to protect ourselves, deny Al Qaeda safe haven and support young democracies, which will be a major defeat for their ambitions,” he said.
Bin Laden appears to be healthy and well-rested in the video, which was being scrutinized Friday by U.S. government intelligence analysts. He has a black beard, a sharp contrast to the grizzled facial hair that he has had in most sightings and photographs in the last decade.
Some U.S. counter-terrorism officials initially said they were not convinced that the man in the video was Bin Laden, particularly because the beard looked so different.
Several noted that As-Sahab has been known to artfully splice old footage of the Al Qaeda leader into current video and audio messages.
But a U.S. intelligence official said late Friday that “initial technical analysis suggests the voice is indeed that of Osama bin Laden.”
Also Friday, CIA Director Michael Hayden warned that Al Qaeda was planning devastating attacks on American targets, possibly on U.S. soil.
In the 26-minute video titled “The Solution,” Bin Laden speaks against a spare backdrop that offers no hint of where he might be. His words suggest that the video was made within the last month: He mentions the recent 62nd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, which occurred Aug. 6 and Aug. 8, in accusing the U.S. of genocide.
Bin Laden urges Americans in sometimes rambling language to reject being controlled by major corporations. He contends that the quest for oil and profits is the force driving the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the cause of suffering of millions of Muslims and dispossessed peoples around the world.
“It has now become clear to you and the entire world the impotence of the democratic system and how it plays with the interests of the peoples and their blood by sacrificing soldiers and populations to achieve the interests of the major corporations,” he said, according to a transcript of the tape made by the SITE Institute, a private intelligence-gathering agency.
The video contains no overt and specific threats of an attack, but one senior U.S. counter-terrorism official said that analysts were scrutinizing it to see whether it contained veiled hints of a strike in the U.S. or on American interests overseas, or other coded messages to Al Qaeda’s followers. “It’s not in his nature to be that blatant,” the senior U.S. official said of Bin Laden.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he had not been authorized to speak on the record about the video or other intelligence-gathering efforts.
The official also said experts were scrutinizing Bin Laden’s physical appearance for clues about his health, after years of unconfirmed rumors that he was ill with a kidney disease.
In his 2004 video, the Al Qaeda leader appeared to be trying to make the transition from terrorist to political figure, in part by offering somewhat conciliatory statements and attempting to justify some of his group’s actions as being done in the defense of Muslims worldwide.
But then Bin Laden for the most part disappeared. Though his voice was used in several Al Qaeda audio messages, he was not seen again on any contemporaneous video or in public, prompting speculation that he was either dead or gravely ill. Bin Laden last issued an audio message about a year ago.
In the new video, Bin Laden sharply criticizes the Iraq war and the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. He takes potshots not only at Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, but also at the U.S. media, the public and Democrats in Congress for failing to change the country’s course even though a majority of Americans say they oppose the Iraq war.
Bin Laden also criticized recently elected British and French leaders Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy. But he saved most of his vitriol for U.S. corporations, calling them “the real tyrannical terrorists.”
In one passage, Bin Laden implies that U.S. corporations killed President Kennedy because he opposed the Vietnam War, which he said had become immensely profitable for them.
He also said that because of multinational corporations and the capitalist system, Americans suffer from high-interest debts, “insane taxes” and mortgages, and blames them for putting “all of mankind” in danger from global warming.
“So it is imperative that you free yourselves from all of that” and embrace Islam, Bin Laden says, portraying the religion as one that over the centuries has fought against violence and protected persecuted Jews and Christians from their oppressors.
Analysts said the most significant aspect of the video appears to be Bin Laden’s decision to make one after so many years.
“He is saying that six years after 9/11 and the unlimited budget invested in counter-terrorism, that everything is business as usual on his end,” said Rita Katz, the director and co-founder of the SITE Institute. “He is trying to get attention, and to show that he is not as evil a man as described by the U.S. government.”
Peter Bergen, a terrorism analyst and author of “The Osama Bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of Al Qaeda’s Leader,” said Bin Laden may have decided he’d waited long enough to show the world that he was still alive and in charge.
“Bin Laden is in this interesting Catch-22 where he can say nothing and become less relevant or occasionally put out a tape and risk getting caught,” Bergen said.
“He must have calculated that the risk is worth it.”
Times staff writer Maura Reynolds in Sydney, Australia, contributed to this report.