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Corruption Watch: November 12, 2004

12 November 2004, Volume 4, Number 21
After a year's silence, Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden recently made his views known in a videotaped message, parts of which were aired on the Al-Jazeera satellite-television network on 29 October. The full text of his message was posted on the Al-Jazeera website on 5 November.

Speaking in front of a plain brown backdrop, bin Laden appeared fit and in better health than in the previous video aired on 10 September 2003, which showed him walking with difficulty on a mountain path holding a walking stick. The Arabic date superimposed on the video showed that it had been filmed on 24 October.

The message he conveyed was clearly meant for American audiences prior to the presidential elections. According to the translated text on, bin Laden told the American people: "Your security is not in the hands of [Democratic Party challenger Senator John] Kerry or [President George W.] Bush or Al-Qaeda; your security is in your own hands." He added, "Any state that does not mess with our security, has naturally guaranteed its own security."

The head of Al-Qaeda went on to warn the American public that "Despite entering the fourth year after 11 September, Bush is still deceiving you and hiding the truth from you, and therefore the reasons are still there to repeat what happened."'

U.S. security officials told the press that they did not consider this phrase a threat and consequently did not increase the alert status in the United States.

For over a decade, bin Laden has given extensive interviews as well as video- and audiotaped messages that have been aired on various Arabic television and radio stations. According to Anonymous, the author of the book "Through Our Enemies' Eyes," the following motifs have predominated bin Laden's thinking.

First, the main enemy of Islam is the "Crusader West" and it's ally, Israel. This was the overriding theme of his declaration of jihad against the United States in 1996 when he wrote: "You are not unaware of the injustice, repression, and aggression that have befallen Muslims through the alliance of Jews, Christians, and their agents...." Bin Laden then goes on to list them: "the dreadful massacre in Qana, Lebanon, Tajikistan, Burma, Kashmir, Ogaden, Somalia, Eritrea, Chechnya, and Bosnia-Herzegovina...alerted Muslims to the fact that they are the main target of the Jewish-crusade alliance aggression."

Bin Laden returned to this motif in his 29 October statement, saying: "We saw transgressions and the coalition between Americans and the Israelis against our people in Palestine and Lebanon."

U.S. security officials told the press that they did not consider this phrase a threat and consequently did not increase the alert status in the United States.

Second, an important part of bin Laden's message is that his jihad is defensive in nature, acting to protect Muslims from "crusader" aggression. A reference to this also appeared in the latest videotape. "We fought with you because we are free, and we don't put up with transgressions. We want to reclaim our nation. As you spoil our security, we will do so to you."

Third, in many of his statements, bin Laden focuses on himself as the embodiment of the jihad and as the inspiration for Muslims. In "Through Our Enemies' Eyes" the author quotes a letter published in March 1998 where bin Laden wrote: "Come to me, O people of ours, I am your herald in this grievous catastrophe of the U.S. occupation of the Arabian Peninsula."

In the 29 October video bin Laden says: "During those crucial moments, my mind was thinking about many things that are hard to describe. But they produced a feeling to refuse and reject injustice, and I had determination to punish the transgressors."

Commenting on the 29 October tape, Bruce Hoffman, a RAND Corporation expert on terrorism, told "The Christian Science Monitor" on 1 November that "part of his [bin Laden's] game is to portray himself as a statesman."

In the 29 October message, however, there is an unusual deviation from the norm -- bin Laden makes a point of telling the American people that the idea to bring down the World Trade Center's twin towers was born from a scene he witnessed while in Lebanon.

"I will talk to you about the reason for those events, and I will be honest with you about the moments the decision was made so that you can ponder," bin Laden said. "And I tell you, God only knows, that we never [initially] had the intentions to destroy the towers."

The idea of attacking the World Trade Center, he says on the videotape, came to him during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon when he saw Israeli planes bombing tower blocks. This seemingly contradicts other evidence presented in the "9/11 Commission Report," which that points to Khalid Sheikh Muhammad as the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks. The "9/11 Commission Report" says: "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed acknowledges formally joining Al-Qaeda in late 1998 or 1999, and states that soon afterward, bin Laden also made the decision to support his proposal to attack the United States using commercial airplanes as weapons."

In his past interviews and messages on video and audio, bin Laden has never focused on the 1982 invasion of Lebanon by Israel at any great length. For some reason in the 29 October message he goes out of his way to prominently mention Lebanon in such as way as to show his support for Muslims in that country and tell the world how much he was allegedly influenced by events there.

It is important to note that the full text of the latest bin Laden message was released only a week after the first airing on Al-Jazeera. "The New York Times" reported on 30 October that the United States tried "unsuccessfully to persuade Al-Jazeera not to show the videotape, consistent with past efforts to deny a podium to terrorist threats. The channel rebuffed the American request, ...but a spokesman for Al-Jazeera said it had televised just one minute of a five-minute tape." (Roman Kupchinsky)

Less than a month before American troops stormed Al-Fallujah, Iraq, trying to dislodge insurgents holding the city, their suspected leader, 38-year-old Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, believed by some to be hiding in the city, is said to have ordered the posting of a communique on a number of Islamist websites on 17 October. The text translated by reads, in part:

"Announcement of the good tidings: the Tawheed wal-Jihad Movement [Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad] has joined under the banner of Al-Qaeda. The pledge of allegiance of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, amir [commander] of the mujahideen, to Shaykh Usama Bin Laden.

"Tormenting Allah's enemies and pleasing every Muslim; praise be to Allah who united the ranks of the mujahideen and split the infidel alliance.... There have been contacts between Shaykh Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi -- may Allah protect him -- with the brothers in Al-Qaeda for eight months. After an [initial] exchange of viewpoints took place, a catastrophic dispute occurred. However, Allah has been benevolent to us in resuming those contacts, and now our noble brothers from Al-Qaeda understand the strategy of the Tawheed wal-Jihad Movement in Mesopotamia� and their hearts are pleased by the methods we have used."

This message created a mild sensation. The admission that al-Zaqwari had been in contact with bin Laden for some eight months and had decided to "pledge allegiance" to him seemed to vindicate the claims of the Bush administration that al-Zarqawi was linked to Al-Qaeda, although a few weeks earlier, the CIA had stated that they had no proof such a link existed.

Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, "The man from Zarqa," a dusty town in Jordan known for its car trading and crime, is wanted by the coalition forces in Iraq and has had a price tag of $25 million on his head since June. He is suspected of organizing car-bomb attacks against coalition forces as well as beheading a number of hostages. Yet, al-Zaqwari remains an enigma to many Western counterterrorism specialists.

A profile of al-Zarqawi that appeared on the BBC's website describes him as a former petty criminal who joined the "Afghan Arabs" fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. After the war, al-Zarqawi returned to Jordan as a radical Islamist and was jailed for seven years on charges of conspiring to overthrow the monarchy and establish an Islamic caliphate. After his release he fled Jordan after being sentenced to death in absentia for allegedly plotting to kill American and Israeli tourists. Western intelligence services at the time believed he was hiding in Europe.

The BBC profile claims that al-Zarqawi then fled to Afghanistan, where he set up a terrorist training camp in the city of Herat close to the Iranian border. It is at this time that he allegedly reestablished his links with Al-Qaeda.

In 2001, he is believed to have fled to Iraq. Why he did so is not clear. U.S. officials have claimed that he was sent there at Al-Qaeda's behest to establish ties with Ansar al-Islam, a Kurdish Islamist organization.

In documents released by the Italian prosecutors office in Milan, al-Zarqawi is named as being in charge of a transnational terrorist group that operated in Milan, 15 of whose members were arrested by the Italian police in September 2002 and in March-April 2003.

Over the last few years, al-Zarqawi is alleged to have been involved in a series of bombings -- in Casablanca and Istanbul as well as the 11 March bombing of a train in Madrid.

In February 2004, U.S. authorities announced that they had obtained an apparent draft of a letter from Zarqawi to bin Laden that was quoted by "The Daily Telegraph" on 4 October. "We will be your readied soldiers, working under your banner, complying with your orders and indeed swearing fealty to you publicly and in the news media," the letter read.

Some observers however, believe that Zarqawi is more myth than man. "The Daily Telegraph" website,, published an article on 4 October that claimed that U.S. military intelligence agents in Iraq were paying unreliable sources for unverified information about Zarqawi. "We were basically paying up to $ 10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals, and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the lynchpin of just about every attack in Iraq," one source described as a U.S. agent told the newspaper.

A Western diplomat told the newspaper that al-Zarqawi is a deeply ambitious man who wants to give Osama bin Laden "a run for his money as U.S. public enemy No. 1." However, the diplomat added, "intelligence on the Jordanian is thin."

During talks with insurgents holding Al-Falluja, "RFE/RL's Iraq Report" noted that one of the negotiators, Hatim Karim Mudib, told Al-Jazeera television in a 13 October interview that al-Zarqawi was not in Al-Fallujah, adding that he doubts that al-Zarqawi even exists. "Al-Zarqawi has become an example like that of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction for which the United States has come to Iraq," Mudib said. "We hear about this name, [but the person] actually does not exist."

Did al-Zarqawi have a relationship with Saddam Hussein prior to the second Gulf war? According to a story published by on 4 October, Iraqi intelligence documents allegedly found by the coalition forces and made available to CNS include an 11-page Iraqi memo, dated 25 January 1993, which lists Palestinian, Sudanese, and Asian terrorist organizations and the relationships Iraq had with each of them.

Bruce Tefft, a retired CIA official, told that Iraq developed a relationship with al-Zarqawi and his Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad which he described as a "secret Palestinian organization" formed after the first Gulf war.

The leaders of the group, according to the Iraqi memo that the CNS claims to have obtained, were stationed in Jordan in 1993, and when one of those leaders visited Iraq in November 1992, he "showed the readiness of his organization to execute operations against U.S. interests at any time."

The CNS report read: "Tefft believes the Tajdeed [sic] group likely included al-Zarqawi, whom he described as 'our current terrorist nemesis' in Iraq, 'a Palestinian on a Jordanian passport who was with Al-Qaeda and bin Laden in Afghanistan prior to this period (1993).'"

On 14 October translated such a communique from al-Zarqawi posted on an Islamist website that read: "Two lions from the martyrs battalion of the Tawheed wal-Jihad [Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad] movement managed to breach the U.S. Embassy compound inside the Green Zone in the capital Baghdad." The brazen attack on the most heavily defended section of Baghdad showed that the insurgency, supposedly led by al-Zarqawi, was capable of choosing its own targets and striking at will.

In the murky world of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency there are often contradictory versions of events, deceptive reports of shifting alliances, and doctored biographies of personalities. Black propaganda operations meant to discredit opponents seem to proliferate and the controversy surrounding al-Zarqawi is no different from that of other terrorists. His supposed alliance with Al-Qaeda might or might not be true for a variety of reasons, but what is certain is that al-Zarqawi is responsible for serious crimes in Iraq. His death or capture will most likely not end the insurgency, but it can help shorten it. (Roman Kupchinsky)