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Osama's intriguing silence
September 15, 2004
Since the terrorist strikes of September 11, 2001, in the US, at least 10 taped messages attributed to Osama bin Laden have been telecast by the Al-Jazeera television channel.
These were disseminated on November 3 and December 28, 2001; September 10, October 6, and November 12, 2002; February 11, September 10, and October 18, 2003 and January 4 and April 15 this year.
Thus, there were two messages in 2001, three each in 2002 and 2003 and two so far this year. In 2002 as well as 2003, there were two messages disseminated on September 10, coinciding with the first and second anniversaries of the terrorist strikes in the US.
In the message attributed to him to mark the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist strikes, he said: 'When you talk about the New York and Washington raids, you talk about those men who changed the course of history and cleansed the chapters of the nation from the filth of the treasonous rulers.'
I will become martyr this year: Osama
In the message to mark the second anniversary, he said: 'The confusion caused to the enemy was sufficient to make people wake up from their slumber and rise for jihad for the sake of God. I had the honour of knowing these men. One is honoured by knowing such men.'
Keeping in view his practice of issuing a message on the eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist strikes and remembering the terrorists who had participated in the attacks, one expected him to issue a message on September 10 this year too. I kept awake the whole of that night waiting for the expected message, but intriguingly, no such message has come till the time of the writing of this article.
Instead, a message attributed to Ayman al-Zawahiri, his No 2, was disseminated by Al-Jazeera on September 9. In it, he said:"The Americans are hiding in their trenches. The defeat of US-led forces in Iraq and Afghanistan is only a matter of time. The Americans were between two fires. If they continue they will bleed to death, and if they withdraw they lose everything."
Zarqawi at par with Osama
It is difficult to establish the authenticity of the message and the date on which it was recorded though some analysts feel it must have been recorded after the end of June 2004, since it refers to the interim government in Iraq. Even though the message was telecast two days before the third anniversary of 9/11, there is nothing in it to indicate that it was recorded specifically to coincide with the third anniversary of 9/11.
There is no reference to Al Qaeda or the Taliban by name. There is no recall of the so-called sacrifices made by the terrorists who participated in the attacks of 9/11 in US territory and no homage to them. It just refers to the activities of the Mujahideen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The absence of any anniversary message from bin Laden so far has revived speculation among the cadres of the various components of the International Islamic Front in Pakistan. This speculation relates his health, to his still being at large and the state of Al Qaeda.
I have been reporting since the beginning of 2002 that Osama suffered a splinter injury during the US air strikes at Tora Bora post 9/11 which affected his speech and that he underwent medical treatment at the Binori madrassa of Karachi till last August, when he disappeared from there.
Laden, Al Zawahiri safe: Taliban
Thereafter, while messages attributed to him continued to keep coming, there was not a single report from human sources, who claimed to have seen him. However, sections of the Pakistani media had claimed that after his arrest at Rawalpindi in March 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad had told the Pakistani authorities that Osama was alive and that he had met him a few weeks before his arrest in the tribal areas of Balochistan.
This is, however, not corroborated by the report of the US National Commission, which had gone into the 9/11 terrorist strikes.
The absence of an anniversary homage to the terrorists of the 9/11 operation by Osama is interpreted by some as an indicator that either he is already in the custody of the US or Pakistan and will be produced before the world just before the polling day in the US or that he is dead or that his health has deteriorated aggravating the speech disability reportedly suffered by him due to the sharpnel injury.
But since there is no evidence to corroborate any of these interpretations, he must be presumed to be alive and free till there is evidence to the contrary.
Al Qaeda has a new military chief Expert
The other kind of speculation relates to alleged differences between Osama and al-Zawahiri. Since the occupation of Iraq by US-led forces last year, one had seen some intriguing developments to which I had drawn attention in my past articles. Examples:
The extremely virulent nature of the statements of al-Zawahiri whereas those of Osama were less virulent.
The strongly anti-Musharraf, anti-India and anti-Hindu references in the statements attributed to al-Zawahiri whereas those attributed to Osama, while critical of Pakistan, were devoid of virulent attacks on Musharraf.
Al Qaeda taunting me Musharraf
Discrepancies indicating that bin Laden and his No 2 were not in the same place and probably did not have the means of co-ordinating the contents of their respective messages.
Frequent warnings, claims of responsibility and other statements issued by organisations with different names after the terrorist strikes in Istanbul, Madrid, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. While some of them projected themselves as affiliates or brigades of Al Qaeda, there was hardly any reference to bin Laden in the statements relating to the other terrorist strikes.
The Islambouli Brigade of Mohammad Islambouli, which had practically disappeared from public view after its reported merger with the Islamic Jihad of Egypt led by Al-Zawahiri after the formation of the IIF in February 1998, is back in the news under its original name since July. It has claimed responsibility for the failed attempt to kill Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan's prime minister, in the last week of July, the blowing-up of two Russian planes on August 24 and the explosion outside a Moscow metro station on August 31.
Al Jazeera suppressed Laden tapes
Interestingly, while the claims relating to the attack on Aziz referred to it as the Islambouli Brigade of Al Qaeda, any reference to Al Qaeda was absent in the statements relating to the terrorist strikes in Moscow.
The absence so far of any follow-up message from bin Laden to his last message of April 15 in the wake of the Madrid bombings, in which he had offered a so-called three-months' truce to West European governments if they distanced themselves from US policies.
Follow-up statements have come after the expiry of this period on July 15 in the form of warnings to Italy, Denmark, Indonesia and Malaysia, but these bore the names of organisations such as the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigade, the Abu Bakr al-Seddiq Brigade, the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Brigade, the military wing of al-Zarqawi's Tawhid Wa al-jihad (Unification and Holy War ) etc. The messages did not refer to bin Laden.
Is the net closing in on Osama?
These developments have given rise to the following questions: Is bin Laden still alive? If alive, is he still healthy enough to be active and leading? Is he in US or Pakistani custody to be produced before the US voters on the eve of the US presidential elections? Are there differences between him and his No 2?
Has Al Qaeda or the IIF split? If so, why?
One can only draw attention to these questions. One is not in a position to answer them convincingly due to inadequate evidence.