February 13, 2007

Has Osama Died?

Hot Air noted a new message from al-Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, which pledges allegiance to Mullah Omar and the Taliban. He urges Muslims to unite behind Omar, but makes no mention of his AQ chief Osama bin Laden, who has gone silent for a long period of time:

In a message released Monday, al Qaeda's No. 2 leader called on Muslims to unite under Taliban leader Mullah Omar, stop trying to form secular governments and instead follow strict Islamic Sharia law.

The message from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the top aide to al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, appeared on an Islamist Web site. ...

Al-Zawahiri pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar and called on all his followers to reject animosity and differences and come together under Mullah Omar's banner.

Mullah Omar is the elusive, shadowy Taliban leader who slipped away in the early days of the war in Afghanistan. The Taliban held Afghanistan with an ultra-conservative government and sheltered al Qaeda.

Arabs tend to speak in flowery language, especially regarding politics, but this pledge of Zawahiri's allegiance sounds like a man without a leader. It has been more than a year since the last tape from bin Laden, one of his longest silences since 9/11. One might have expected an Osama tape crowing about Bush's midterm setback, or about the surge strategy in Baghdad, or perhaps the failure of the previous Baghdad security strategy.

Zawahiri has been more active, sending out a message every few weeks, trying to rally what's left of his organization. Usually they include statements of loyalty to Osama and urging the faithful to rally to bin Laden, not Mullah Omar. His focus on driving followers to Omar's banner in this latest message might indicate that bin Laden has reached room temperature, or less likely, been captured.

Osama hasn't stopped making news, even if he has stopped making tapes. The Washington Post has a lengthy description of the November 2003 series of bombings in Istanbul, which the Post reports as the last AQ terrorist attack personally authorized by bin Laden:

About a week before Sept. 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden sat down to a breakfast meeting in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. His Turkish guests had arrived with a plan for a spectacular terrorist strike, but according to accounts two of the visitors later gave investigators, there was no talk of business over the meal.

Instead, bin Laden held forth for an hour about the injustices Muslims were suffering at the hands of Israel and the United States, standard motivational remarks tailored slightly for the occasion: He told the visitors that one of his grandmothers was Turkish.

Afterward, outside the one-story house guarded by high walls and men with Kalashnikov rifles, it was al-Qaeda's military commander who gave the visitors $10,000 in cash and crucial words of guidance.

So began a plot that ended in November 2003 with the staggered detonation of four powerful truck bombs in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city. The attacks, which killed 58 people and wounded 750, may have been the last terrorist strikes specifically authorized by bin Laden. Two months after breakfasting with the Turks, bin Laden was making for his base at Tora Bora as U.S.-led forces attacked across Afghanistan.

Like so much of radical Islamist expression, Turkey invited it for their own purposes. In the 1980s and 1990s, Turkey used extremist groups to attack Kurds in their eastern region as part of a civil war that has raged for some time. Like any parasitical infestation, the native Islamist extremists grew, outstripping their portfolio with the government in Istanbul and reaching out to like-minded organizations -- like al-Qaeda. The Turks brought this attack on themselves to a large extent.

These days, though, it is difficult to apply for AQ support, since the leaders have fled into the hills of Waziristan or its environs. Zawahiri now directs applicants to Mullah Omar instead of bin Laden. It seems likely that Osama's only contribution to that effort now is strictly as inspiration to the suicide bombers who want to meet him, up close and personal, after they carry out their missions.


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