Juan Cole: The Irrelevance of Bin Ladin

Roundup: Historians' Take

An audio message allegedly from Usamah Bin Laden was released Sunday, claiming that the attempted Christmas day airline attack over Detroit was his work.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assert two things about the audio. First, I do not think it is genuine. Second, I think it demonstrates that Bin Laden, whether he is dead or alive, is now irrelevant.

Nothing about this 'message' smells right.

The audio's claim that Bin Laden was behind the Christmas day bombing is dubious. The modus operandi of Nigerian terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab bore no resemblance to that of Bin Ladin's al-Qaeda. Bin Laden plans operations for years beforehand; attempts to arrange for simultaneous large attacks or attacks on symbolic targets; and uses teams. One guy hastily recruited in an amateurish attempt that only blows up his own crotch? That isn't al-Qaeda.

Another clue: the alleged Usamah listed only one grievance, that of Palestine, and he framed it in terms of the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza. Wouldn't he have some concerns about the US drone strikes on the positions of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the northwest of Pakistan and in Afghanistan? About Obama's escalation of the Afghanistan war? If this is a recent audio, as shown by the reference to the December 25 attack, why not gloat about the attack on the CIA forward operating base by an al-Qaeda double agent only a few days afterward?...

The new audio makes no reference to Jerusalem or al-Aqsa at all, just to Gaza. It would just be uncharacteristic for Bin Laden to neglect to mention them....

I don't know if the old monster is dead, and some clever young engineers just have a program to emulate his voice, or whether he is alive and horribly disfigured (we have not seen him in an authentic video since October 2004). But I do have the severest doubts that he issued this audio message. And the interesting thing is that even if he did, almost no one in the Muslim world seems to care.

All the police work so far in the public record points to Yemen as the place Abdulmutallab was radicalized, trained and equipped for this mission. Bin Laden has no command and control capabilities in Yemen, and that his father hailed from there before moving to Saudi Arabia in the early 20th century is irrelevant. "Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" is 300 guys holed up in isolated Maarib in Yemen. Bin Laden has no means to communicate with them (he no longer uses cell or satellite phones because the US can trace them). AQAP already announced that it was behind the Christmas bomb plot, and it wouldn't be like the real Bin Laden to upstage them.

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John a Wilson - 1/27/2010

It will still be historical when we kill him.