Bin Laden Says West Attacking Islam

 Osama bin Laden’s latest message seems to be aimed at moderate Arabs, a call to arms that they should support al-Qaida in defending Islam in what he called “a Crusader-Zionist war,” which he blamed for a long list of attacks on Islam in places from Darfur to Denmark.

“Your aircraft and tanks are destroying houses over the heads of our kinfolk and children in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Pakistan. Meanwhile, you smile in our faces, saying: We are not hostile to Islam; we are hostile to terrorists,” bin Laden said, according to excerpts of the audiotape attributed to him and broadcast Sunday by the Al-Jazeera Arab television network.

It was the first time bin Laden had been heard from publicly since Jan. 19.

Hamas, the militant group that now controls the Palestinian government, distanced itself after bin Laden’s latest audiotape was aired.

Independent analysts said it appears bin Laden has begun timing such appeals to ensure he stays relevant and in the spotlight.

“If you look back at what’s been happening with bin Laden tapes in the past, it’s when people have kind of forgotten about him, when he’s not been on the news, that the tapes emerge,” said Bob Ayers, a security expert with the Chatham House think tank in London. “It’s kind of his way of thumbing his nose at the U.S. and saying, ’Hey, I’m still out here.’”

Yet those who say the connection between bin Laden’s tapes and actual attacks has ebbed still view them as ominous warnings of al-Qaida’s overall strategy.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said al-Qaida’s propaganda techniques “would make a politician proud.”

“It recognizes that much of this war, this battle that we’re fighting, is about winning the hearts and the minds of moderate Islam, and they are focused on that,” Hoekstra said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We need to be focused on it.”

Tape Accuses Westerners
In the tape, bin Laden accused average Westerners of supporting a war on Islam and urged his followers to go to Sudan – his former base – to fight a proposed U.N. peacekeeping force.

His words seemed designed to justify potential attacks on civilians – which al-Qaida has been criticized for even by Arab supporters. He also appeared to be trying to drum up support among Arabs by accusing the West of targeting Hamas.

Citing the West’s decision to cut off aid to the Hamas-led government, the al-Qaida leader said Washington and Europe were conducting “a Zionist, crusaders’ war on Islam.”

Al-Qaida is thought to have no direct links to Hamas, which is an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood. A Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, was quick to distance the group, declaring Sunday that “the ideology of Hamas is totally different from the ideology of Sheik bin Laden.”

The groups do, however, share an anti-Israel ideology that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. Recent reports in the Middle East media have said al-Qaida is trying to build cells in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and Sudan. Israel has indicted two West Bank militants for al-Qaida membership.

Chechnya Also Cited
Bin Laden also referred to the strife in the Russian republic of Chechnya and to the lawless country of Somalia.

“What is the meaning of the silence over the horrible Russian crimes in Chechnya and the lynching of Muslims and tearing apart of their bodies? What does the humiliation of Muslims in Somalia and the killing of 13,000 of our brother Muslims there mean?” bin Laden said. He did not elaborate on the reference to the deaths in Somalia.

The voice on the tape sounded strong and appeared the same as that on other recordings attributed to bin Laden. But independent verification was not immediately possible.

Al-Jazeera did not divulge how it obtained the tape, and it was unclear when it was recorded. It appears, however, to have been made in the past five weeks because bin Laden referred to a raid by Israeli forces on a Palestinian prison in Jericho on March 14.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said U.S. intelligence officials think the tape is authentic. “The al-Qaida leadership is on the run and under a lot of pressure,” McClellan told reporters traveling with President Bush in California.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad downplayed the significance of the message in an interview with CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.”

“He wants to be relevant to the situation,” Khalilzad said. He “wants to get attention, [to show] that he still is a player and that this is unfinished business that we still have to deal with.”

’A Master Craftsman’
M.J. Gohel, a London-based analyst and chief executive of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a security think tank, said, “Bin Laden is a master craftsman at recognizing issues and knowing how to exploit these issues for his own purposes. He’s trying to enlarge the global conflict and is trying to incite and anger the Muslim world against the West.”

On Sudan, bin Laden called on his supporters “to prepare for a long war against the crusader plunderers in Western Sudan. Our goal is not defending the Khartoum government but to defend Islam, its land and its people,” he said.

“I urge holy warriors to be acquainted with the land and the tribes in Darfur,” he said, adding that they should be aware that the rainy season approaches and that will hamper their movement.

The United States and other Western countries are pushing for the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force to the ravaged region.

Bin Laden also has a personal background in Sudan: The Saudi-born al-Qaida leader set up headquarters there after he was forced to leave his homeland. Sudan then expelled him under threats from the United States. Bin Laden then moved to Afghanistan, where he trained fighters and organized the Sept. 11 attacks.

He now is thought to be hiding in the rugged mountains on the Pakistani side of that country’s long border with Afghanistan.

In Washington, U.S. intelligence officials said bin Laden has been living separately from his top deputy and, in a sign he has to be careful about whom he trusts, surrounded by fellow Arabs.

The al-Qaida chieftain also made a point of trying to justify attacks on civilians. He said citizens of Western countries were equally responsible with their governments for what he termed the “war on Islam.”

“I say that this war is the joint responsibility of the people and the governments. While the war continues, the people renew their allegiance to their rulers and politicians and continue to send their sons to our countries to fight us,” bin Laden said.

In his last message, aired Jan. 19, bin Laden offered the United States a long-term truce but warned al-Qaida soon would launch a fresh attack on American soil. There have been no new attacks on the United States in the three months since, however.

Jan. 19, 2006: Bin Laden says al-Qaida is preparing for attacks in the United States and offers a truce.

Dec. 27, 2004: Bin Laden calls on Iraqis to boycott Jan. 30, 2005, elections and names Abu Musab al-Zarqawi his Iraq deputy.

Dec. 16, 2004: Bin Laden exonerates Islamic militants of responsibility for violence in Saudi Arabia and calls on militants to stop the flow of oil to the West.

Oct. 29, 2004: Bin Laden says the United States can avoid another attack like those of Sept. 11, 2001, if it stops threatening Muslims.

May 6, 2004: Bin Laden offers rewards of gold for the killings of U.S. and U.N. officials.

April 15, 2004: Bin Laden offers a “truce” to European countries that do not attack Muslims. He vows revenge against the United States for the Israeli assassination of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

Jan. 4, 2004: Bin Laden says the U.S.-led war in Iraq is the beginning of the “occupation” of Persian Gulf states for their oil.

Sept. 10, 2003: A voice purporting to be bin Laden’s praises the “great damage to the enemy” on Sept. 11 and mentions five hijackers by name.

April 7, 2003: Bin Laden exhorts Muslims to rise up against Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other governments it claims are “agents of America,” and calls for suicide attacks against U.S. and British interests.

Feb. 13, 2003: An audiotape of bin Laden reading a poetic last will and testament is aired on the British-based Islamic Al-Ansaar news agency. Bin Laden says he wants to die a martyr in an attack on the United States.

Feb. 11, 2003: Bin Laden calls on Iraqis to carry out suicide attacks against Americans and defend themselves against a U.S. attack.

November 2002: Bin Laden says the “youths of God” are planning more attacks against the United States.

Dec. 13, 2001: On a videotape of bin Laden in Afghanistan on Nov. 9, 2001, he says the destruction of the Sept. 11 attacks exceeded even his “optimistic” calculations.