On October 27, 2010, Al Jazeera television network broadcasted a new audiotape by Osama bin Laden meant to exploit the Muslim world’s growing anger toward France specifically, and against Europe generally. Defending the recent kidnapping of five French nationals in Niger, bin Laden said the act was an appropriate response to France’s ongoing intervention in the affairs of Muslims in North and West Africa; its persecution of Muslim women in France via its ban on burqa wearing; and the presence of 3,500 French troops in Afghanistan. Bin Laden warned Paris that it is foolish to think France’s anti-Muslim actions would go unanswered by al-Qaeda and other mujahideen. “The equation is very clear and simple,” bin Laden said, stressing, as he always does, the justice of reciprocal treatment in wartime. “[T]he fault lies with the one who initiates [the hostilities]. . . . as you kill, you will be killed; as you abduct, so shall you be abducted; as you ruin our [Muslim] security, so shall we ruin your security.”
The new message is vintage bin Laden in several ways. With the United States and Britain, France has always been high on al-Qaeda’s target list because of its discriminatory treatment of French Muslims; its support for the Algerian regime against the country’s insurgents; its military aid to West African regimes; and its Afghanistan presence. In addition, since 2006 bin Laden and al-Qaeda have highlighted their intention to bring the jihad to the Niger-Nigeria –Gulf of Guinea area to “liberate” Muslims there from the anti-Islamic policies that European governments force their “agent regimes” in West Africa to apply. And as he has argued regarding the Arab Peninsula’s energy resources, bin Laden insists that West Africa’s oil, uranium and other natural resources are the property of the Muslim ummah (community of believers) and that the mujahideen intend to end the West’s control of them.
While using familiar themes, the timing of bin Laden’s message is meant to exploit several current realities favoring al-Qaeda and other jihadis:
—France and most western European states are on high alert because of credible intelligence that bin Laden has authorized Mumbai-like attacks in their cities. With this threat already on the table, bin Laden is trying to enhance fears among publics, politicians and security services, and force them to continue high levels of counterterrorism spending.
—Bin Laden intends the message to praise and spur on fighters who make up al-Qaeda’s forces, and those of its allies, in North and West Africa. The past few years have seen al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM) continue its insurgency in Algeria, as well as expand its operational reach in Mauritania, Mali and elsewhere in West Africa. Al-Qaeda also has gotten a pledge of loyalty from a growing Islamist militant group in Nigeria known as Boko Haram. Bin Laden’s message signals al-Qaeda’s support for these groups; stresses its intention to continue inspiring jihadism in West Africa and across the continent; and bears witness to al-Qaeda’s growing martial capabilities in West Africa.
—Bin Laden also highlights NATO’s deteriorating position in Afghanistan and reminds France and other NATO states that they will all pay a price for occupying a Muslim country. This aspect of the talk is fully in keeping with bin Laden’s quite successful post-9/11 effort to strip away countries from the coalitions Washington led into Iraq and Afghanistan. In this message, he refers to the latter as “Bush‘s accursed war.”
And while bin Laden does not focus on the United States in this message, its release six days before the U.S. midterm elections is not a coincidence. Bin Laden’s words are meant to remind U.S. voters that he is still alive and al-Qaeda is quite viable; that the Obama administration is, like Bush’s, losing the Afghan war; and that the war—with the Iraq War—has pushed the United States to “the verge of bankruptcy in all major areas, and soon it will go back beyond the Atlantic Ocean, Allah willing.”
Less noticeable to the public, but surely most worrying to U.S. policy makers is the message’s clear indication that al-Qaeda’s presence and strength is growing in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea region, from which America will be importing 20 percent of its crude in the next several years.
Finally, for those who argue bin Laden is irrelevant, French Defense Minister Hervé Morin unexpectedly said on October 28, 2010, that “our troops may leave Afghanistan next year . . . we can transfer responsibilities to the Afghans in 2011.” This positive (appeasing?) response to bin Laden’s threat is even quicker than the Spanish government’s cave-in after the Madrid bombings.
(Illustration by Husar de la Princesa)