By DeWayne Wickham
Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader who presumably spends much of his time hiding from U.S. Air Force drones, has taken credit for the failed Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airliner in the skies over Detroit.
"America will never dream of living in peace unless we live it in Palestine. It is unfair that you enjoy a safe life while our brothers in Gaza suffer greatly. Therefore, with God's will, our attacks on you will continue as long as you continue to support Israel," the al-Qaeda leader says in an audiotaped message obtained by Al Jazeera, the Middle East news agency.
Meant to stoke fear, this latest bin Laden message is more revealing than frightening. Its release comes four weeks after Umar Farouk Abulmutallab failed to down the plane with his explosive-ladened underwear. While dissidents in places like Iran and Tibet use the Internet to send real-time messages around the globe, bin Laden took nearly a month to get out a recording of his claim to have been behind Abulmutallab's botched attack. He's either burrowed deeply into the mountainous region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, or thinks nothing good will come of him using Facebook or Twitter to boast of trying to kill a planeload of civilians.
Either way, I get it. Since al-Qaeda's devastating 9/11 attack, bin Laden's terrorist group has spent more time fighting for its life than attacking its proclaimed enemies. It thrives only in desert enclaves and mountainous hideouts, where bin Laden and his lieutenants preach world domination while living like moles. As bin Laden tries to instill fear in us with his taped words, he is left to constantly worry that a remotely piloted U.S. plane will discover his location and stuff a missile into that crawl space.
Of course, it's true al-Qaeda is still a serious threat. Fractured by the war in Afghanistan, pieces of it have shown up in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The terrorist organization has an especially worrisome presence in the lawless regions of Somalia and Yemen, the country in which Abulmutallab said he received training for his suicide mission.
"Yes, they retain the capability of striking overseas.," FBI Director Robert Mueller told USA TODAY last year. "They are still lethal." But while al-Qaeda continues to target noncombatants in its terror campaign, the U.S. and its allies have taken deadly aim at the group's leadership. The mounting death toll among members of bin Laden's inner circle seems to have left him largely detached from the scattered remains of his organization, which struggle to survive.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack was carried out by a well-trained, disciplined cadre of al-Qaeda disciples who managed to seize four jumbo jets in midflight and turned three of them into missiles that struck their targets. The other plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field as passengers fought to regain control of it. But the 2009 Christmas Day attempted bombing was left to a wide-eyed religious fanatic whose training appears to have been rushed and whose commitment to cause seemed to quickly wane under questioning by FBI agents.
While even a weakened al-Qaeda is capable of inflicting a damaging blow to Americans at home and aboard, bin Laden's words no longer invoke the fear they once did. With U.S. drones constantly searching for him, he has more to fear from us, than we do from him.