Sunday, October 31, 2004

Bin Laden's vote

October 31, 2004

Bin Laden's vote

OSAMA Bin Laden has voted in this year's American presidential elections.

Guess who he voted for: John Kerry. Indeed, Bin Laden might not even be aware of it.

His move came contrary to expectations that whatever he did before the elections would be in favour of George W Bush since the Al Qaeda leader needed to have Bush in office for another four years in order to propagate his jihadist theories by taking advantage of the Republican president's aggressive policies and positions in the Arab-Israeli conflict and involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. The American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and the de facto American rule of 50 million Muslims there were deemed vital for Bin Laden to project his movement as the defender and avenger for the Muslims world over.

Conventional wisdom suggested that Bin Laden would have favoured Bush in the election by either doing nothing or staging an attack in the US. He did neither. Instead, in his latest message, he sought to discredit Bush's record in protecting Americans' security. That came through a videotaped address released through Al Jazeera Television in which he clearly claimed responsibility for the Sept.11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington and warned that the best way for Americans to avoid a repeat of the attacks was to stop threatening Muslims' security.

In the first such explicit statement, Bin Laden claimed responsibilities for the Sept.11 attacks and said American policies in the Middle East were the reasons for the actions.

He noted that Israeli planes firing missiles and bombing towering buildings in Lebanon in 1982 and said this had given him the idea to stage the 9/11 attacks in the US.

"As I watched the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me to punish the unjust the same way -- to destroy towers in America so that it can taste some of what we are tasting and to stop killing our children and women," he said.

"We decided to destroy towers in America," he said. "God knows that it had not occurred to our mind to attack the towers, but after our patience ran out and we saw the injustice and the inflexibility of the American-Israeli alliance towards our people in Palestine and Lebanon, this came to my mind."

"Oh, American people, I am speaking to tell you about the ideal way to avoid another Manhattan, about war and its causes and results," he said. "Despite entering the fourth year after Sept.11, Bush is still deceiving you and hiding the truth from you, and therefore the reasons are still there to repeat what happened."

More pointedly, he ridiculed Bush by referring to the president's immediate response to the Sept.11 attacks and asserted that Bush had given the attacks more time for the assaults.

According to Bin Laden, Bush reacted slowly to the Sept. 11 attacks. At that time, the president was visiting an elementary school in Sarasota, Florida, where he was seen holding a book called "My Pet Goat."

"It never occurred to us that the commander in chief of the American armed forces would leave 50,000 of his citizens in the two towers to face these horrors alone," Bin Laden said.

It is estimated that there could have been 50,000 people in the two towers at the time of the attack.

"It appeared to him (Bush) that a little girl's talk about her goat and its butting was more important than the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers," said Bin Laden. "That gave us three times the required time to carry out the operations, thank God."

Obviously, Bin Laden has either seen Fahrenheit 9/11 or has been briefed about the documentary.

Fatal delay

Records show that Bush was notified by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at about 8:55am of the first airplane assault on the World Trade Center.

Ten minutes later, Chief of Staff Andrew Card informed Bush of the second attack, and the president left the Florida classroom several minutes afterwards, according to the New York Times.

Bin Laden said in the latest message that he had told Mohammed Atta, the man said to have been the leader of the 9/11 assailants, that the attacks should be carried out "within 20 minutes before Bush and his administration noticed."

Perceived terror threats to the US and the US-led war against terrorism around the world are a major factor in the American presidential elections. Bush and his supporters had been highlighting that Democrat challenger Kerry could come nowhere near the incumbent president in protecting American security.

In fact, that is the only card that the Bush camp could play. The Bush administration is widely deemed as having failed in internal economic policy (an example is unemployment, which has risen three fold since Bush took office in 2000). And the Bush White House is seen to have a dismal performance in foreign policy, given that anti-American sentiments around the world are at a new peak today.

The timing of Bin Laden's latest message needs scrutiny.

Bin Laden might have had ulterior motivations in releasing the videotape just four days before the American elections, but he hinted at none in the message itself. However, he said the outcome of the election was not important in his context.

"Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or Al Qaeda; your security is in your own hands," he said. "Any state that does not mess with our security has naturally guaranteed its own security."

It was Bin Laden's first videotaped message since Sept.10, 2003.

According to experts, the taping could have been made on last Sunday, the date superimposed on the videotape.

The New York Times quoted American intelligence and law enforcement officials as saying that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had established with "a high degree of confidence" that the tape was authentic. Officials told the paper that they would try to determine whether the address contained hidden messages or clues about a possible future attack against the United States, but they said it was too early to know.

In an audio tape released in April, Bin Laden said Al Qaeda was ready for a truce with Europe if the European countries recalled their military from Muslim countries.

According to Al Jazeera, it had televised just one minute of a five-minute tape. American intelligence officials who had access to the full tape told the New York Times they saw nothing that conveyed an explicit threat.

In any event, Bin Laden's message threw a fresh element four days ahead of the elections, raising last-minute questions whether Bush or Kerry or neither could successfully lead the war against terror. What answers the voters get in the next 48 hours could determine who emerges the winner on Nov.2.

Is it the October surprise we were all waiting for?