CNN National Security Analyst
Less than a day after Republican presidential candidate John McCain promised that if he won the presidency Osama bin Laden would be captured or killed by 2013, a message from al Qaeda’s leader appeared on jihadist websites reminding the world that he is alive and well.
Bin Laden’s audiotape message commented on the recent 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel; promised that he would fight for the liberation of Palestine, and told his Muslim listeners that they have a duty to help in that effort.
Was the audiotape an attempt by bin Laden to remain relevant by pushing on the issue that remains a hot button for most Muslims? After 9/11 some commentators said that the Palestinian issue was something that bin Laden had recently adopted in order to appeal to a wide range of Muslims. This is false.
When al Qaeda’s leader declared war on the United States publicly for the first time in August 1996
part of his rationale concerned the Palestinian issue:
“My Muslim Brothers: The money you pay to buy American goods will be transformed into bullets and used against our brothers in Palestine…I feel still the pain of [the loss of] Al-Quds in my internal organs; (Al Quds, the site of the third holiest place of pilgrimage in Islam, was annexed to Israel in 1967.)
Despite the fact the bin Laden has long been preoccupied by the Palestinian issue, al Qaeda has done little concrete to advance the cause of Palestine. Part of the reason for that is al Qaeda’s leaders have for years been critical of Palestinian figures such as Yasser Arafat, who they despised for being a “secularist” and the leadership of Hamas which they have criticized for taking part in elections. For its part, Hamas has also publicly distanced itself from al Qaeda.
Despite the animosity between al Qaeda and Hamas, what may emerge in the Palestinian Authority are small, ultraviolent groups inspired by bin Laden’s messages that are more militant than Hamas. A similar phenomenon occurred in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon recently with the emergence of violent al Qaeda-like groups such as Fatah al-Islam. Needless to say, al Qaeda-like groups emerging in Gaza would further complicate matters for the Palestinians and Israelis.
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