- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2011

Al Qaeda has released an audio message from its slain leader Osama bin Laden, who applauded the protests sweeping the Arab world, and its timing threatened to upstage President Obama’s major speech on the Middle East.

“My Muslim nation, we are monitoring with you this great historic event, and we join you with your joy and delight,” bin Laden said in Arabic in the 12-minute message, posted online Wednesday night by al Qaeda’s media arm, as-Sahab.

An al Qaeda statement last week said the audio was recorded about a week before U.S. commandos killed bin Laden on May 2. However, there are no references to the ouster of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak earlier this year or to the uprisings that took hold in other Arab countries after protests spread from Tunisia and Egypt.

“This suggests that his message was recorded sometime in late January 2011,” according to MEMRI, a firm founded by a former Israeli intelligence officer that monitors extremist messages.

The audio was clearly not recorded in expectation of bin Laden’s death. It appeared intended as the latest commentary he periodically released on current events after he went into hiding following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

The timing of the release on the eve of Mr. Obama’s first major policy speech on the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings was likely coincidental, analysts said.

“It was probably already in the works,” said William McCants, an analyst at the private sector Center for Naval Analyses.

“I think they got lucky,” with the timing, he added.

In his remarks, bin Laden praised the young revolutionaries of Tunisia and Egypt in the elaborate, flowery and highly formal prose that became his hallmark during nearly a decade in hiding. He urged them to seek the counsel of wise Muslims and reject compromise with their opponents.

“To those free rebels in all the countries, retain the initiative and be careful of dialogue. No meeting midway between the people of truth and those of deviation,” he said.

“I believe that the winds of change will envelope the entire Muslim world,” he concluded.

Mr. McCants said bin Laden’s statement appears to reflect “a worry that the revolutions will not result in Islamic states that are hostile to U.S. interests.”

“That’s why he’s calling on ‘faithful’ people, presumably the non-jihadi Islamists, to establish committees to guide [them,]” he added.

Although the successful revolts in Egypt and Tunisia have not brought Islamist political parties to power, the chaos the protests are engendered across the region might help extremists recruit more members and gain in influence, analysts said.

In Libya, some extremists are reportedly fighting in the ranks of rebels, who, with the backing of NATO airstrikes, control most of the eastern part of the country.

The release of bin Laden’s message followed reports that al Qaeda appointed Saif el-Adel, a former Egyptian special forces officer as its interim leader.

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