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Al Qaeda's Deafening Silence By: Claude Salhani
The Washington Times | Friday, November 14, 2008


The election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States was greeted with elation around the world with crowds taking to the streets to express their joy from Washington, D.C., to Nairobi. Congratulatory messages to the new president came pouring in from world leaders and from some rather unexpected sources as well.

The list of somewhat unanticipated well-wishers who welcomed Mr. Obama's election to the White House included the Damascus-based leadership of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, otherwise known as Hamas; and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country was described as part of the "axis of evil" by U.S. President George W. Bush.

Although, as pointed out by The Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, Mr. Ahmadinejad may find himself also relegated to the history books if Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei finds someone else might be better suited to Mr. Obama's temperament.

"The [Iranian] supreme leader may have been content with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the president of Iran to confront a George Bush America but is Ahmadinejad, this incendiary character, the right person to challenge this Barack Obama America? Probably not." said Mr. Ignatius.

The one noticeable silence, however, comes from al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden who refrained from commenting either way. The total absence of comments from the United States' No. 1 enemy, whom the Bush administration has been trying to track down and eradicate ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, is somewhat strange. One would think that this might have been a good opportunity for bin Laden to gloat. After all, he outlasted his nemesis.

But then again, al Qaeda's silence may not be so strange. Mr. Obama's victory over the Republican John McCain must leave al Qaeda at a loss for words. What exactly could he say at this time? Bin Laden can hardly say he supports one American president over another, even if Mr. Bush was the president everyone loved to hate and Mr. Obama, as one commentator on the BBC put it, is the Princess Diana of American politics. "Al Qaeda's top leaders have been silent so far," said Kim Ghattas a BBC correspondent in Washington, "though some expect them to claim Mr. Obama's election as their victory, and a defeat of President Bush's policies."

But, adds Miss Ghattas, "they too may have to rethink how they deal with the 'Great Satan,' if global good will persists."

Indeed, the only "message" from al Qaeda to the new administration may very well yet come in the next few months. It is unlikely, though, to be a message of good biddings of fair wishes.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden's predictions during the campaign that Mr. Obama may be tested during the first six months of his presidency could prove prophetic. Al Qaeda may decide to launch a new attack on the United States, marking its welcome to the new administration and setting the pace for the next four years, as it did with the Bush administration.

The one thing going against al Qaeda is that following Mr. Obama's victory over the Republicans, the entire world opinion supports him and is sympathetic to him. But then again, bin Laden is not running for election so he might not really care what the world thinks of him.

The London-based Arabic language daily newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi in its Nov. 9 edition cites a "source close to the Yemen-based al Qaeda leadership as saying that bin Laden has ordered a new attack on the United States which will be "far greater than the 9/11 attacks."

The paper identifies the source as "a former al Qaeda commander who is still in touch with ... the organization leadership, and who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons."

Bin Laden and his lieutenants have in the past communicated with al-Quds al-Arabi, whose editor in chief Abdel Bari Athwan managed to interview bin Laden when he was still hiding in Afghanistan.

According to the source, the attack is meant "to change the world [both] politically and economically," and is planned for the near future.

However, bin Laden and his gang should not be fooled or misled by Mr. Obama's different approach to the same problem. Mr. Obama's style and policies may differ greatly from Mr. Bush's. But as president, Mr. Obama will go after bin Laden with a determination that may yet surprise everyone, especially bin Laden himself.


Claude Salhani is international editor of United Press International.


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