- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009

New threatening tapes releasedby al Qaeda’s top two leaders show that both are still alive but also suggest frustration at punishing U.S. air strikes and a Pakistani onslaught in the Swat Valley.

The tapes were clearly timed to try to steal some thunder from President Obama, who arrived in Saudi Arabia Wednesday and will give a major speech in Cairo Thursday addressed to the Muslim world.

First Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda’s No. 2, declared that the speech will not change the “bloody messages” the U.S. military is sending Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hours later, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden blamed Washington for a Pakistani offensive in the Swat Valley that has displaced nearly 3 million people.

“Elderly people, children and women fled their homes and lived in tents as refugees after they have lived in dignity in their homes,” bin Laden said. “Let the American people be ready to reap what the White House leaders have sown.”

He added, “Obama and his administration have sown new seeds to increase hatred and revenge on America. The number of these seeds is equal to the number of displaced people from Swat Valley.”

Pakistani leaders, including President Asif Ali Zardari, have suggested that bin Laden, who escaped U.S. capture in 2001, might have died.

However, the audiotape, first aired on the Arabic news network Al Jazeera, appears to be authentic, according to U.S. military and counterterrorism officials.

In the past, such tapes have preceded attacks on U.S. targets.

A U.S. military official told The Washington Times that bin Laden’s threats “should not be taken lightly.”

“When people, especially terrorists like bin Laden, feel cornered they may feel their only option is to strike,” said the official, who spoke on the condition that he not be named. “He’s desperate and angry. He’s still a very viable threat to the U.S. and our interests.”

“In the past, he has timed the release of his messages to major events, so it’s not entirely surprising that he chose this particular week,” a U.S. counterterrorism official told The Times.

The official, who also spoke on the condition he not be named, said there does not appear to be any “specific or credible threat information contained in the message, although we’re of course continuing to look at it closely.”

Bin Laden accused Mr. Zardari and Pakistani Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani of turning “the army from its main task of protecting Islam, Muslims and their land.” Bin Laden said Mr. Zardari “betrayed the nation” to “implement an American, Jewish and Indian conspiracy” against Pakistan.

In April, Pakistan launched a military offensive to expel the Taliban from the Swat Valley, a former resort area only 100 miles from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

U.S. counterterrorism and military officials said the bin Laden tape also reflects anger at U.S. air strikes that have killed nearly a dozen senior al Qaeda leaders and disrupted the organization’s safe haven in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In the tape, bin Laden refers to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and hails the actions of the 19 hijackers who took over the flights.

He said the recent U.S. actions are worse than the treatment of the Palestinians that he said inspired the Sept. 11 attacks.

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