- The Washington Times - Monday, January 25, 2010

U.S. officials on Sunday dismissed a purportedly new audiotape by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as an attempt to stay relevant by claiming responsibility for the Christmas Day aborted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner.

The officials said they could not immediately authenticate the minute-long recording released to Al Jazeera, the Arabic TV news channel, but indicated that there was no reason for heightened alarm about new attacks.

“The message delivered to you through the plane of the heroic warrior Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a confirmation of the previous messages sent by the heroes of September 11,” bin Laden said on the tape. “America will never dream of security unless we will have it in reality in Palestine.”

Mr. Abdulmutallab is a Nigerian Islamist who officials say admitted to receiving training and explosives to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based group inspired by bin Laden’s much larger network.

“God willing, our raids on you will continue as long as your support for the Israelis continues,” bin Laden said.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said there was little significance to bin Laden’s message beyond reminding his audience that al Qaeda remains a “catalyst” for terrorist attacks, and he is “trying to continue to appear relevant” by claiming to be in control of an affiliate group’s activities.

“The latest audiotape verifies what we already know,” he said. “By keeping the pressure on core al Qaeda in the area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, bin Laden is left to try to jump on the bandwagon when an al Qaeda franchise attempts a strike, as happened on Christmas Day.”

White House adviser David Axelrod said on CNN that the message “contains the same hollow justification for the mass slaughter of innocents.”

Speaking on Fox News, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, “Nobody’s had a chance to authenticate that tape.”

“Everybody in this world understands that this is somebody that has to pop up in our lives over an audiotape because he’s nothing but a cowardly murderous thug and terrorist that will some day — hopefully soon — be brought to justice,” he said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Andy David also dismissed the message and its attempt to link Israel with attacks on the United States.

“This is nothing new. He has said this before,” Mr. David said. “Terrorists always look for absurd excuses for their despicable deeds.”

IntelCenter, a U.S.-based group that monitors militant messages, said the phrase “Peace be upon those who follow guidance,” which can be heard on Sunday’s tape, has appeared at the beginning and the end of previous bin Laden messages released before al Qaeda attacks.

The last time a public message from bin Laden was released was on Sept. 26, when he demanded that European countries withdraw their troops from Afghanistan.

The Associated Press also reported that on-scene investigators in Detroit never discussed turning Mr. Abdulmutallab over to military authorities on Dec. 25. The FBI looked for help from its own local expert counterterror interrogators, rather than seek bureau personnel to fly in from Washington or elsewhere.

Last week, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair told Congress that Mr. Abdulmutallab should have been questioned by a special group of terror investigators, rather than the FBI agents who responded to the scene. Several prominent lawmakers have argued that he should have been placed immediately in military custody.

“Badly burned and bleeding, the suspect tried one last gambit as he was taken from the plane: He claimed there was another bomb hidden on board,” the AP quoted officials as saying. “There was no second bomb, federal agents learned after a tense search.”

Mr. Abdulmutallab, 23, tried to trigger a powder explosive in his underwear when the plane from Amsterdam was preparing to land in Detroit, but he was restrained and stripped bare by fellow passengers and crew. Officials have said he spoke openly and in detail about his training in Yemen and the preparations for the attack.

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