Washington: Osama bin Laden`s message of worry about climate change and devastating Pakistan flooding, broadcast online, aims to polish his battered image among Muslims, a leading Western analyst said.
"Bin Laden seeks to capitalise on any crises or
problems which are of concern to the people whose favour and
support he seeks," said Paul Pillar, a former top US
intelligence official who retired in 2005 after a 28-year
"At least for many Pakistanis, the floods have most
recently been concern number one," said Pillar, a professor at
Georgetown University, adding that the al Qaeda chief
"projects a compassionate image" by focusing on social issues.
He aims "to counteract his loss of support among
people who have come to perceive him as an uncaring terrorist
who has no hesitation about spilling the blood even of fellow
Muslims," Pillar said by e-mail.
Some US officials have taken pains to highlight the
number of Muslims killed by al Qaeda and its offshoots in a
bid to sap support for the network behind the September 11,
2001 attacks on the United States.
And bin Laden, whose latest message avoided direct
calls for violence, may also be taking note that militant
groups like Hamas and Hezbollah win public support by
providing services, said Pillar.
"If he can`t build goodwill by actually providing
services like those groups do, he can at least hope to get
some mileage out of talking up the subject," the analyst
Pillar`s comments came after a monitoring group
provided what it described as an audio message from bin Laden
in which the al Qaeda chief warned that the number of victims
from climate change is "bigger than the victims of wars".
The voice on the message also urged "serious and
prompt action to provide relief" to those afflicted by
Pakistan`s devastating floods, the country`s worst
If authenticated, the tape provided by SITE
Intelligence Group would be the first time bin Laden has
spoken publicly since March 25.
The recording`s focus on Pakistan was notable in that
Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri and US-born al Qaeda
spokesman Adam Gadahn both assailed the US ally`s response to
the catastrophe in recent messages.
US intelligence agencies declined to comment, but a US
official who requested anonymity called the Pakistan appeal
"yet another cynical ploy by someone who is, in fact, one of
mankind`s least humanitarian people."