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Archive for Sunday, October 31, 2004

Bin Laden strikes new tone to attract moderates

October 31, 2004

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— Osama bin Laden's new videotape clearly targets American voters days before an extraordinarily tight presidential election, but also courts another constituency: young Arabs who are frustrated and disenchanted but not committed to radical Islam.

Al-Qaida's leader already has extremists on his side, who made it clear in their remarks posted Saturday on Islamic Web sites that they were elated to see him looking healthy and in control of the cause.

But analysts say that he is trying to broaden his base and that his words were chosen for more secular young Muslims as well as Americans.

In the tape, parts of which were aired Friday by the Arabic TV network Al-Jazeera, bin Laden dropped the usual religious rhetoric and historical references in favor of plain language.

And he pointed to Israeli aggression as his inspiration for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. U.S. policy in the Israeli-Palestinian issue drives frustration among Arabs, from moderates to radicals.

He struck a tone that was almost conciliatory -- though tinged with threat, telling the American people only four days before the election between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry that he wanted to explain why he ordered the Sept. 11 attacks so Americans can act to prevent a similar strike. Stop harming Muslims, he said, and an attack will be averted.

"Your security is not in the hands of Kerry, Bush or al-Qaida. Your security is in your own hands," he said. "Americans' security is bound to the policy they adopt regardless of the winner."

Bin Laden said the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon sparked "a strong feeling against injustice and a strong determination to punish the unjust."

Bin Laden's language, tone and explanation are out of character with his past, more vehement remarks. Analysts warn he's not a changed man, just changing with circumstances.

Lebanese writer and political analyst Saad Mehyo pointed to bin Laden's "new look" and said the tape reflected a "high degree of sophistication, which clearly meant he was following the U.S. presidential elections campaign with special attention."

"All those accusations that al-Qaida is a petrified and closed terrorist group that belongs to the 11th century are not true," he said.

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