CAIRO – Osama bin Laden threatened Americans in a new audio recording aired Wednesday, saying President Barack Obama inflamed hatred toward the U.S. by ordering Pakistan to crack down on militants in Swat Valley and block Islamic law there.
Bin Laden claimed U.S. pressure led to a campaign of “killing, fighting, bombing and destruction” that prompted the exodus of a million Muslims from Swat in northwest Pakistan.
The message was broadcast for the first time on pan-Arab Al-Jazeera Television around the same time Obama touched down in Saudi Arabia at the start of a Mideast visit. He is trying repair relations with the Muslim world frayed under the previous Bush administration.
“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,” bin Laden said. “The number of these seeds is equal to the number of displaced people from Swat Valley.”
Pakistan launched in April a military offensive to expel the Taliban from Swat Valley after the militants abandoned a peace deal with the government that gave them control of the region.
The offensive, strongly backed by Washington, is seen as a test of Pakistan’s resolve against militants in the northwestern border region near Afghanistan. Pakistanis tired of militant attacks in the country that have killed hundreds of civilians have also supported the campaign. But the fighting has uprooted some 3 million people.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, in Saudi Arabia with Obama, said al-Qaida obviously is seeking to shift attention away from what he called the president’s historic efforts to have an open dialogue with the Muslim world.
He said the White House was not surprised bin Laden released the message threatening America just as Obama was preparing to deliver a major speech on U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Obama advisers have not yet been able to completely review the tape, but found it consistent with past bin Laden messages, he said.
Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, promptly dismissed suggestions that anyone but al-Qaida and the Taliban are responsible for the refugee crisis in Pakistan. He spoke during a visit to Islamabad.
“This entire problem began with al-Qaida and its associates and everybody in the world knows that. It’s silly indeed to respond to such a ludicrous charge,” Holbrooke said at a joint news conference with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
Bin Laden focused entirely on Pakistan in his latest message, claiming Zardari was paid by the White House to start the crackdown.
Zardari “turned the army from its main task of protecting Islam, Muslims and their land,” bin Laden said. He said Zardari “betrayed the nation” to “implement an American, Jewish and Indian conspiracy” against Pakistan.
Al-Jazeera aired excerpts of the recording and did not say how it was obtained. The authenticity of the recording could not be immediately verified.
A U.S. counterterrorism official said the tape is being analyzed by U.S. intelligence but noted there has never yet been a fake bin Laden tape. He said bin Laden is still presumed to be alive and the release of his messages are timed to coincide with major events.
He said this message recycles themes from earlier messages and does not appear to contain any specific or credible threat information.
After the message was broadcast, chatter on militant Web sites speculated that Al-Jazeera had received the tape earlier but aired it to coincide with Obama’s landing in Riyadh. But the station’s Deputy Editor-in-Chief Ayman Gaballah told The Associated Press that suggestion “does not deserve a comment.”
“It is not logical that we comment on anyone who writes something like that on a Web site,” Gaballah said.
Bin Laden, whose last message was released in mid-March, has been sparing in his criticism of Obama in the past. In January, he said only that the U.S. president had received a “heavy inheritance” from his predecessor.
However, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri has repeatedly condemned Obama, even using racial slurs.
Bin Laden’s message followed just hours after al-Zawahri, an Egyptian, criticized Obama’s planned speech in Cairo Thursday to the Islamic world. He said it will not change the “bloody messages” the U.S. military is sending Muslims in American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.