Cairo — Softening his tone, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden issued a humanitarian appeal on Saturday urging Muslim governments to do more to help Pakistan’s flood victims and expressing worry about climate change. It was his second purported audiotape in as many days.
The less aggressive approach contrasted with al-Qaida’s previous calls for a violent response in what experts say could be a “good cop, bad cop” ploy to exploit anger over the flooding and rally support for the terror network.
Al-Qaida is under pressure to refurbish support among Pakistanis as it faces a surge in U.S. missile strikes and government crackdowns on insurgents who easily move between Afghanistan and Pakistan’s porous border. American officials have asserted for months that the core of the network has been weakened and is struggling to raise money and attract recruits.
Bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding in the lawless border area that separates the two countries, said governments of Muslim nations have not done enough to help Pakistanis hit by devastating floods that killed hundreds and affected about 20 million people this summer.
“The effort should have been bigger from the beginning,” he said in a recording posted Saturday on militant websites. It was distributed along with a photograph of a smiling bin Laden superimposed over pictures of flood victims.
He also singled out Arab leaders, accusing them of failing to respond to a calamity in a fellow Muslim nation and asserting that the U.N. secretary-general did more than them to help Pakistan.
Bin Laden has often sought to package himself as a senior statesman. In this recording, he assumed a tone more measured than past videos and recordings in which he and his deputies called for the leaders of Muslim nations like his native Saudi Arabia to be overthrown.
Experts said he was likely trying to broaden al-Qaida’s appeal beyond its traditional extremist support base while remaining devoted to the network’s campaign of violence.
The messages coincided with reports that bin Laden was behind the terror plots to attack several European cities. If true, that would be the most operational role that bin Laden has played in plotting attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.