Osama Bin Laden Shifts Emphasis to Palestine

His words are popular with Muslims, but a presence in Gaza means war with Hamas.

Jan. 27, 2010 — -- Osama Bin Laden's latest message to the world was notable not just for its dubious claim of responsibility for the failed attempt to bring down Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas. The audiotape, which surfaced Sunday, also represented a new emphasis on a topic guaranteed to resonate across the Arab and Muslim worlds.

In the short tape, which lasts less than two minutes and is stripped of Bin Laden's usual Koranic ornamentation, Bin Laden focus on the Gaza strip and the plight of the Palestinians. Bin Laden claims that al Qaeda's actions are an attempt to help the Palestinians."

"The United States will not dream of enjoying safety until we live it in reality in Palestine," says Bin Laden. "It is not fair to enjoy that kind of life while our brothers in Gaza live in the worst of miseries."

"God willing our attacks will continue as long as you support the Israelis."

The tape was not the first time Bin Laden has mentioned Palestine, but it is the first time he has talked of little else. In the last of the half-dozen messages he released in 2009, he spoke of Afghanistan.

"The Palestinian cause was always a major issue in the mind of bin Laden," said Saleh Abdel Jawad, a political science professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank, "but in his last message it was the only issue, and this is new."

Bin Laden was firm and brief and did not go into great detail as in old statements, which imparts a clear message, said Abdel Jawad: "I mean business."

Yemeni journalist Abduelelah Hider Shaea, who specializes in radical Islamic groups and has interviewed Anwar al Awlaki, the cleric tied to alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan and underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, said Bin Laden has picked a "winning card" that will win him friends. "Gaza and Palestine are very emotional issues in the Muslim world and he will find that many people are willing to support him on the Palestinian issue," said Shaea.

Al Qaeda Tries Moving Into the Gaza Strip

Al Qaeda has also tried to establish a physical presence in the Palestinian territories. But while there are indications that Al Qaeda is gaining strength in the Arabian peninsula, the attempt to gain a foothold in Gaza has so far been a struggle. Al Qaeda has found itself in direct conflict with Hamas, the Islamist party that runs the enclave.

On August 14, 2009, Hamas police raided a mosque in Rafah that had been taken over by Islamic militants. A heavily armed rebel group calling itself the Warriors of God, and led by Abdel Latif Moussa, accused Hamas of being too liberal. Moussa proclaimed "the birth of the Islamic emirate."

Six Hamas police officers were among the 23 people killed as Hamas reclaimed control of the mosque in a major gun battle. As many as 60 people were wounded.

The group was soon identified as an al Qaeda offshoot, and it was claimed that Moussa had made members of the group swear allegiance to Bin Laden and al Qaeda. Moussa and another leader known as "the Syrian" were allegedly killed in the raid.

In Sept. Hamas cracked down on Hamas-aligned groups in Gaza. Two-hundred people, including a leader named Abu Hamza al Maqdisi, were detained. Thirty of them, including Abu Hamza, escaped from prison during an Israeli Air Force raid on Gaza in December.

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