January 21, 2006

The Al-Qa'idah Tapes

In the last few days, audiotapes from Al-Qa'idah leader Usamah Bin Ladin and his deputy Ayman Az-Zawahri have surfaced. What significance do we place on these tapes?

The Usamah Bin Ladin Tape

Excerpts of an audio tape with the voice of Usamah Bin Ladin was played by Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera on January 19. The full transcript was posted on the network's website.

My take on this tape is a bit different than much of the other analysts. In my view, this is primarily a "proof of life" by Bin Ladin. It has been over a year since we have heard from Bin Ladin. This tape ends rumors and speculation that he may have died in the Pakistan earthquake or of other causes. It may also be an attempt by Bin Ladin to reassert his relevance, since most of the focus for terrorism has shifted to Iraq and the actions of his follower Abu Mus'ab Az-Zarqawi.

The tape makes threats of an attack in the United States. I view these as reiterations of the existing threat. Should we take it seriously? Absolutely, as we have been all along, but this is nothing new. Was this a warning of impending attacks? We have never established a correlation between these tapes and attacks. It is of note, however, that this tape lacked much of the usual religious fervor and Koranic references, and offered a "truce" to the west. I doubt if anyone is taking that seriously.

The Ayman Az-Zawahri Tape

On January 20, an audiotape containing the voice of Bin Ladin's deputy Ayman Az-Zawahri was posted on an Islamist website. The audio content, however, is believed to be a recitation of a poem written in 2004. There is no "time stamp" information - references that prove that the tape was made after a certain event - that indicate this is a new tape. As an intelligence analyst remarked, "This could have been posted by any Abdul at a coffee shop with internet access...."

Not exactly politically correct, but accurate.