Reporting from Beirut — Al Qaeda’s leader claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an American civilian jet in an audio tape broadcast today on Arab television.
In the clip, Osama bin Laden said his group was behind the failed attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight.
Speaking directly to President Obama, he vowed to continue launching terrorist attacks against the United States so long as Washington supported what he described as Israel’s unjust treatment of Palestinians.
“From Osama to Obama: Peace upon the one who follows guidance,” he said in the tape, broadcast on the pan-Arab Al Jazeera satellite news channel, his image appearing on the screen as he spoke. “America will not dream of security until we experience it as a reality in Palestine.”
White House officials today said they could not confirm the authenticity of the tape.
“But assuming that it is him, his message contains the same hollow justifications for the mass slaughter of innocents that we have heard before,” White House senior advisor David Axelrod said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “He is a murderer, and we are going to continue to be on the offense against Bin Laden, against Al Qaeda, to protect the American people. “
Bin Laden likened the arrested Nigerian national Abdulmutallab, who said he received instructions for carrying out the bombing plot from a cleric in bin Laden’s ancestral home of Yemen, to those behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the U.S.
“If our messages to you could be carried by words, we would not have delivered them by planes,” he said on the tape, which could not be independently verified. “The message we want to communicate to you through the plane of the hero, the holy warrior Umar FaroukÃÂ is a confirmation of a previous message, which was delivered to you by the heroes of [Sept. 11] and which was repeated previously and afterward.”
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an apparent offshoot of bin Laden’s loosely defined organization, had previously claimed responsibility for Abdulmutallab’s attempted attack, in which the 23-year-old unsuccessfully tried to detonated explosives attached to his underwear.
Many analysts have speculated that the Christmas Day attack was carried out without bin Laden’s input, in a sign of Al Qaeda’s continued splintering.
Bin Laden, believed to be holed up somewhere in the lawless tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, only began concentrating on the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years. He fought against Soviet occupation for years in Afghanistan before turning his sights on the 1990s U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars over the past decade.
But the Israeli offensive against Hamas-ruled Gaza, which ended a year ago this month, has proved an effective rallying cry for Islamic radicals in the region.
“It is not fair that you should live peacefully while our brothers in Gaza are experiencing the most miserable living,” Bin Laden said in his message, apparently addressing Americans directly. “Based on this, with the permission of God, our raids against you will continue as long as your support for the Israelis is continuing.”
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Andy David dismissed Bin Laden’s attempt to link attacks against the U.S. to Washington’s support for Israel.
“This is nothing new, he has said this before,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “Terrorists always look for absurd excuses for their despicable deeds.”
Jim Puzzanghera contributed to this report.