(AP) CAIRO, Egypt – Osama bin Laden’s new videotape clearly targets American voters days before an extraordinarily tight presidential election, but also courts another constituency: young Arabs who are frustrated and disenchanted but not committed to radical Islam.
Al-Qaida’s leader already has extremists on his side, who made it clear in their remarks posted Saturday on Islamic Web sites that they were elated to see him looking healthy and in control of the cause.
But analysts say he is trying to broaden his base and that his words were chosen for more secular young Muslims as well as Americans.
In the tape, parts of which were aired Friday by the Arabic TV network Al-Jazeera, bin Laden dropped the usual religious rhetoric and historical references in favor of plain language.
And he pointed to Israeli aggression as his inspiration for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. U.S. policy in the Israeli-Palestinian issue drives frustration among many Arabs, from moderates to radicals.
He struck a tone that was almost conciliatory — though tinged with threat, telling the American people only four days before the election between President Bush (news – web sites) and Sen. John Kerry (news – web sites) that he wanted to explain why he ordered the Sept. 11 attacks so Americans can act to prevent a similar strike. Stop harming Muslims, he said, and an attack will be averted.
“Your security is not in the hands of Kerry, Bush or al-Qaida. Your security is in your own hands,” bin Laden said. “Americans’ security is bound to the policy they adopt regardless of the winner.”
Bin Laden said his decision to sanction the Sept. 11 bombings was motivated by the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which he said sparked “a strong feeling against injustice and a strong determination to punish the unjust.”
Bin Laden’s language, tone and explanation are out of character with his past, more vehement remarks. Analysts warn he’s not a changed man, just changing with circumstances.
Lebanese writer and political analyst Saad Mehyo pointed to bin Laden’s “new look” and said the tape reflected a “high degree of sophistication, which clearly meant he was following the U.S. presidential elections campaign with special attention.”
“All those accusations that al-Qaida is a petrified and closed terrorist group that belongs to the 11th century are not true,” he said.
Bin Laden and his followers “are showing a degree of maturity and development in order to bring their cause into the mainstream of (Arab-Islamic) causes,” Mehyo said. “This is a very serious matter that should prompt us to stop and think.”
Biographers of the al-Qaida leader have noted he first showed anger at the Americans during the last phase of the Afghan war against Soviet troops, a war in which “holy warriors” like bin Laden and the United States were on the same side fighting communism. Bin Laden’s first signs of anger followed a 1989 massacre of dozens of his supporters by the communist-led Afghani government, which he blamed on the Americans.
But in the tape, bin Laden cites a cause more dear to all Arabs, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“He no longer needs to talk and address devout Muslims, they already support him,” said Abdel Rahim Ali, an expert on radical Islamic groups and author of Alliance of Terror, Al Qaida Organization.
“What he wants is to enlarge the circle in order to mobilize more young Muslims among those who are not committed (to radical Islam). These young men feel deep frustration because of the daily Israeli practices and bin Laden is using their anger and frustration,” Ali said.
It was the first footage in more than a year of the fugitive al-Qaida leader, thought to be hiding in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan (news – web sites) border. Unlike in his previous tapes, a turbaned bin Laden, with a long, gray beard, was shown standing behind a lectern in white robe and golden cloak. His hands were steady, gesturing as he addressed the camera.
Despite reaching out to more moderate Muslims, bin Laden isn’t ignoring his core support among fundamentalists.
On Islamic Web sites, where his followers post views and monitor al-Qaida’s exploits, bin Laden’s tape prompted excitement.
“God is Great, oh God bless our Sheik Osama and destroy the nation of infidels,” wrote a person identifying himself as Abdel Fattah Ismail.
Abdul Khaleq Abdulla, a political analyst in the United Arab Emirates and professor at Emirates University in al-Ain, said the changed style is no indication bin Laden has changed his fundamental views and that it won’t bother his supporters to see their hero tone down his rhetoric.
“It was a surprise he was in good health; it was a surprise he was in control of his thoughts,” Abdulla said. “This will energize much of his followers.”