What Bin Laden's New Tape Reveals About al-Qaeda

Did he just become an environmentalist?

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Osama bin Laden has released a new audiotape. It primarily addresses the struggling flood relief effort in Pakistan, but as always the al-Qaeda leader makes a variety of arguments. Here's what the 11-minute tape says and what that reveals about bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the ongoing fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

  • Taking 'Humanitarian' Response to Floods  The Associated Press summarizes, "It was the third message in recent weeks from al-Qaida figures concerning the massive floods that affected around 20 million people in Pakistan, signaling a concentrated campaign by the terror group to tap into anger over the flooding to rally support. But while the earlier messages by subordinates were angry, urging followers to rise up, bin Laden took a softer, even humanitarian tone — apparently trying to broaden al-Qaida's appeal by presenting his group as a problem-solving protector of the poor."
  • Now Emphasizing Media Over Terrorism  Former CIA analyst and terrorism expert Jarret Brachman explains, "Al-Qaeda has transformed in recent years from a terrorist organization (illegal) that haphazardly used media to advance their cause (not illegal) to a media organization (not illegal) that haphazardly uses terrorism to advance their cause (illegal).  In other words, by reconceptualizing their illegal organization into a legal movement, they managed to rope in thousands, if not tens of thousands of new followers.  This reconceptualization, by sheer numbers, structurally flipped the ratio of their labor hours from being  3/4 illegal stuff (terrorist operations) and 1/4 legal stuff (media operations)  to 1/4 illegal stuff (terrorist operations) and 3/4 legal stuff (propaganda operations). You no longer have  to be a financier or commander or foot soldier – things that are illegal – in order to be al-Qaeda. You can be al-Qaeda by being a web administrator or graphic designer, doing things that are not  against the law. In fact, you can now be al-Qaeda without even being al-Qaeda, according to Adam Gadahn's 'Call to Action' video."
  • AQ Rebranding After Being Rejected by Most Arabs  Jihadi media expert Aaron Zelin writes, "This is yet another example of al-Qā’idah’s efforts to rebrand itself in the aftermath of the slaughter in Iraq, which revulsed much of the Arab and Muslim world. Moreover, the CTC report that stated that al-Qā’idah’s attacks killed Muslims 85% of the time brought light to the hypocrisies of the organization that purported to be at war with the 'Zionist-Crusaders' and not a war between al-Qaeda and Muslims. ... Therefore, al-Qā’idah has tried to be a more inclusive organization and part of this rebranding is a softer message such as this one."
  • How He's Shifting Focus  Terrorism analyst Florian Flade writes, "In the following, very unsual message, Osama Bin Laden warns about the lack of food due to global warming and climate change. He says Muslim regions are suffering also because useful acreage is fallow and left fallow by the Muslims. Large portions of Muslim countries could be used for agriculture and cattle farming, Bin Laden suggests. ... Osama Bin Laden´s new tape was clearly not meant as a 9/11-anniversary message. Instead it is the continuation of Bin Laden´s January tape in which he talked about climate change and globalization, calling for the replacement of the US-Dollar as the world´s No.1 currency. America´s economy has to come to a standstill, the al-Qaeda leader said in January, if we want to stop global warming."
  • Osama Takes On Climate Change  The Washington Independent's Andrew Restuccia writes, "bin Laden railed against the United States and other major economies for not acting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The comments come just days before the start of U.N. climate talks in Tianjin, China and a month before major negotiations in Cancun, Mexico. Negotiators are not expected to agree to a binding treaty at the meetings." He quotes from the tape, "Speaking about climate change is not a matter of intellectual luxury — the phenomenon is an actual fact. All of the industrialized countries, especially the big ones, bear responsibility for the global warming crisis."
  • Conservatives Tie Environmentalists to al-Qaeda  The Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg writes, "This was the last conversion to the environmental cause that anybody would have wanted. ... The utterance immediately got star billing on the right-wing blog Drudge Report as well as a mention on Fox News – both repositories of opposition to action on global warming. And the Conservative RedState website asked, 'What is the difference between Bin Laden and Al Gore?'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.