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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Analysis: Bin Laden 'Truce Offer' Likely To Trigger U.S. Attack

By J.M. Berger

al Jazeerah today aired a new audio message purportedly from Osama bin Laden, in which the al Qaeda leader threatened attacks on U.S. soil and offered to accept a truce in exchange for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. (external link)

The new message dramatically increases the threat level of terrorist attacks in the U.S. in the short- to medium-term future. According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (link), the new tape states
"[W]hat [Bush] refrained from saying -- and this is the essence of the poll results, which favor troop withdrawal -- is that it is better that we do not fight the Muslims on their soil, and they will not fight us on our soil.

We have no objection to accepting a long-term cease fire under fair conditions which we will uphold. We are a nation forbidden by Allah to betray and lie. Both sides will benefit from such a cease fire, from security and stability, and we will build Iraq and Afghanistan which have been destroyed in the war.
Using similar language in an April 2004 audio communique, bin Laden offered to negotiate a truce with European countries. In that message, bin Laden said:
I offer a truce to them (Europe) with a commitment to stop operations against any state which vows to stop attacking Muslims or interfere in their affairs, including (participating) in the American conspiracy against the wider Muslim world.
In a subsequent message from Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the July 2005 London bombings were explicitly cited as retribution for Europe's failure to seek terms with al Qaeda after bin Laden's previous message.

Contrary to some comments by the media and the Bush Administration today, the talk of truce does not reflect any self-diagnosis of weakness on the part of al Qaeda's leaders. Nor does it likely reflect a genuine desire for a cease-fire.

Al Qaeda has a keen grasp of the obvious. Bin Laden knows there is absolutely no chance the current leadership of the United States would agree to any sort of truce. The offer is a formality offered primarily for the benefit of Muslim audiences.

Islamic and Arab traditions encourage combatants to reasonably accomodate the cessation of hostilities at appropriate moments, and Islamic law can be read as explicitly requiring combatants to cease hostilities if the enemy ceases aggression -- the Quran states "if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression." (external link) bin Laden has long characterized Western governments as aggressors against Muslims.

By showing his willingness to consider alternatives, bin Laden seeks to shore up al Qaeda's moral standing within the Islamic community and provide a moral rationalization in support of the terrorist attack that will follow.

With all the above considerations coming to bear, the audio message from bin Laden is almost certainly a "green light" authorizing al Qaeda cells to begin preparing an attack or multiple attacks. Although the decentralized "al Qaeda movement" doesn't need a specific order to strike targets of opportunity, there are still "institutional al Qaeda" operatives dispersed around the world, waiting for word to proceed.

Depending on where previous preparations stand, an attack could be mounted or attempted within weeks or months, with the prospect of a truce is explicitly refused by the U.S. government.

The most likely window for an attempted attack probably spans the next three to 24 months, but an attempt could come sooner depending on the tenor of the U.S. response -- which is virtually assured to meet bin Laden's expectations.

Updated 1/20/2006


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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