As the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks near and Americans and other members of the anti-terror Coalition ponder how to observe it, the terrorists and their sympathizers are also planning commemorations. The “Magnificent 19″ conference hosted by al-Muhajiroun in the U.K., for example, has been widely reported. “A Conference, Not A Celebration” they say, and a chance to discuss Izhar ud-Deen, the “total domination of the world by Islam.” However, organizers won’t announce publicly where the meetings will be held because they fear official retaliation. I am sure that the celebrants — I mean, conferees — will totally dominate whatever basement they wind up in.
The al Qaeda leadership no doubt has something more festive planned, as festive as they can be under the circumstances anyway. Not like that terror summit in April, that was all business, none of the usual bushkazi with a ritually disemboweled goat. Maybe this year something classy, a few friends over to the safe house, a toast with sweet green tea, a moment of silence, then back to filling aerosol cans with botulism. But for public consumption, the terrorists have reportedly assembled a new videotape entitled “The American Hell in Afghanistan and Iraq (Part 1).” It was released by the Sahab Foundation, which has production credits on many of the recent al Qaeda videos. The latest features a statement from Osama bin Laden, and pictures of dead Americans and other images of carnage. According to a radical named Abu Dajanah, who claims to have seen the tape, it will be “a strong blow equivalent to the 11 September ones because of the tragedies they would see.” That’s setting the bar a little high — over hyping on the eve of release can be devastating, didn’t Abu Dajanah see what happened to Gigli? — but given the terrorists’ utter disregard for life or human misery, these scenes could be very shocking. Remember the Danny Pearl video, which thankfully was never fully aired in this country.
Apparently the distributors are vitally concerned that Al Jazeera broadcast the first part of the tape unedited — either because it is the part with the secret messages to terror cells, or because bin Laden’s statements frequently have kicked off with lengthy introductions and Koranic references which may have important abstruse meanings to him and his followers but which any news producer would see as an invitation for the audience to find out what’s on ESPN. Al Jazeera has chillingly been warned that if it does not broadcast the first section in toto, it will be distributed instead to the Islamist chat forums. But the online jihadists seem to have gotten a jump on the network and previewed the tape. Some of their websites have announced that Osama bin Laden will discuss current events in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will bring out a surprise guest, another senior terrorist who has been reported captured or killed. Just to note: According to the White House Office of Global Communications nearly two thirds of known senior al Qaeda leaders, operational managers, and key facilitators fall into that category, so the potential guest list is extensive.
Al Jazeera denies it even has such a tape, and if it did they would not air it on al Qaeda’s schedule. Last week, AJ refused to air a tape from the Iraqi resistance that showed numerous captured American soldiers being interrogated, and which revealed the existence of a former Iraqi military base which is being used by the U.S. to stockpile the corpses of unreported dead Americans. Coincidentally, shortly afterwards Iraqi police arrested four scam artists who had sold AJ a bogus “Iraqi resistance” tape for $10,000. The Iraqi report notes, dryly, “Such methods have become common these days.” In addition, this is not the first time we have been promised a new Osama video in time for the 9/11 anniversary. Last summer, the then-al Qaeda spokesman, Sulemain Abu Gaith, said we would soon see some new OBL footage. Not only did we not get the tape, we didn’t get a lot more of Abu Gaith. He is currently believed to be among the al Qaeda leaders under “house arrest” in Iran.
My position on the OBL tapes has been consistent since at least April 2002 (“Osama’s Greatest Hits“) — they tend to make me think he is dead. They are usually vague, and don’t mention current events; they are full of splices and noise; and none of the experts can agree on the technical analyses. If he is out there, he needs to be a little less ambiguous. My standard is that if bin Laden wants to prove he is alive he must appear on video, holding a newspaper or offering some other proof of currency (for example, he could denounce that Madonna-Britney girl-on-girl action at the MTV video music awards as proof of the very Western decadence the Middle East has been so anxious to enjoy). The last time we saw anything like this was in December 2001. The April 2003 “OBL” message that mentioned the attack on Iraq and named Hamid Karzai as a traitor came close to the requirement, but the audio was so questionable that it could not be validated. Contrast those tapes with Saddam’s new releases, which are clearly not retreads of earlier statements, are better produced, and which most analysts agree are genuine. Even if they are not, at least the die-hard Baathists have the self-respect to pull off a convincing fraud. Maybe the production values would improve if there were an awards category for “Best Terrorist Propaganda Video.” And Osama — enough with the hokey blue screen effects, the reedy background music, and random edits. Go for something simple, you, a bar stool, an acoustic guitar, shot in black and white, maybe do some Cat Stevens — he’s on your side now right? Possibly “Trouble,” lots of pathos there, or go straight for the irony and do “Peace Train.” Don’t worry, everyone will get the joke.