Bin Laden may be using climate to bolster image: Analyst
WASHINGTON: Osama bin Laden’s message of worry about climate change and devastating Pakistan flooding, broadcast online Friday, aims to polish his battered image among Muslims, a leading Western analyst said.
“Bin Laden seeks to capitalize on any crises or problems which are of concern to the people whose favor and support he seeks,” said Paul Pillar, a former top US intelligence official who retired in 2005 after a 28-year career.
“At least for many Pakistanis, the floods have most recently been concern number one,” said Pillar, a professor at Georgetown University, who added the Al-Qaeda chief “projects a compassionate image” by focusing on social issues.
His aim is “to counteract his loss of support among people who have come to perceive him as an uncaring terrorist who has no hesitation about spilling the blood even of fellow Muslims,” he told AFP by email.
Some US officials have taken pains to highlight the number of Muslims killed by Al Qaeda and its offshoots in a bid to sap support for the network behind the September 11, 2001 terrorist strikes on the United States.
And bin Laden, whose latest message avoided direct calls for violence, may also be taking note that militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah win public support by providing services, said Pillar.
“If he can’t build goodwill by actually providing services like those groups do, he can at least hope to get some mileage out of talking up the subject,” he said.
Pillar’s comments came after a monitoring group provided what it described as an audio message from bin Laden in which the Al-Qaeda chief warned that the number of victims from climate change is “bigger than the victims of wars.”The voice on the message also urged “serious and prompt action to provide relief” to those afflicted by Pakistan’s devastating floods, the country’s worst environmental disaster.
The recording’s focus on Pakistan was notable in that Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri and US-born Al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn both assailed the US ally’s response to the flooding.
If authenticated, the tape would be the first time Bin Laden has spoken publicly since March 25. The recording was made available by SITE Intelligence Group.
Michael Scheuer, formerly the CIA’s top bin Laden tracker, warned against seeing a focus on climate change — and notably calls for preventive steps to mitigate flooding — as a new or bizarre theme for the world’s most hunted man.
“This not just some ham-head with an AK-47,” Scheuer, who is now a professor at Georgetown, told AFP by telephone, condemning the “one-dimensional picture” many in the West paint of bin Laden.
“We want to believe that he’s just a nihilist killer,” he said. “We tend to forget he was trained as a construction engineer, he’s a management expert, and when he was in the Sudan he was extensively involved in agricultural issues.”Scheuer, author of a bin Laden biography due out in February 2011, said that while climate change “has not been a major theme of his” it has been the focus of several past appeals and reflects lifelong interests.
Bin Laden’s wife and son wrote about “his interest in the environment, and agriculture, and plant life” in their book about life with him and a similar message in January denounced the United States for not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol aimed at battling climate change, he said.
In one of two tapes issued in January, bin Laden blamed major industrial nations for climate change, a statement the US State Department said showed that he was struggling to stay relevant.
In a previous message, he warned that Al-Qaeda would kill Americans if the alleged mastermind of the 2001 attacks, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, were executed.
In another statement in January, he claimed responsibility for the botched Christmas Day bombing attempt of a US airliner and vowing further strikes on American targets.
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