by Florian Flade
They are the first glimpse at what US intelligence officials describe as a “treasure trove”, the largest amount of documents, video and picture material found in a single counter-terrorism raid in years – 2.7 terrabytes of data found inside Osama Bin Laden´s hideout in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, giving a rare insight look into Al-Qaida´s leadership.
Last week, the Pentagon released five videos which were among those found inside the Bin Laden compound, all showing the late Al-Qaida leader prior to his death, watching TV or preparing for the recording of a video message. All audio data of the videos was erased by the US authorities, so none of the videos given to the media actually has any sound.
While the media focussed primarly on one video – the unusual footage of the elderly, grey-bearded terrorist leader sitting on the ground, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, surfing through Arabic TV channels, obviously watching news about himself and his terrorist network – the most interesting of the newly released “Bin Laden Home-Videos” is not the raw footage but the apparently ready-for-release video speech by the Al-Qaida founder.
It appears to be a message by Bin Laden that has already underwent the final editing process of As-Sahab Media, Al-Qaida´s propaganda wing, bearing the usual intro and the As-Sahab logo in the lower right corner of the screen. Osama Bin Laden is seen sitting on a table, wearing a golden robe and a white turban. His beard was obviously dyed in a darker color. The whole scene is very similar to the last two officially released Bin Laden tapes in 2004 and 2007.
The 2007 video message titled “The Solution”, was released by Al-Qaida´s As-Sahab Media on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks and featured Bin Laden also with a dark-colored beard, sitting at a table with a golden-lavish robe.
In 2004, only a few days prior the US Presidential Elections, Al-Jazeera aired a blurry Bin Laden video message in which the Al-Qaida leader also wore the same robe and a white turban. Back then, his beard was not dyed but greyish, making Bin Laden look quiet older compared to the following and since then only other video message in 2007.
Question is: What do we know about what appears to be the last recorded video message of the most-wanted man alive? The intro of the now Pentagon-owned tape simply reads “From Osama Bin Laden to the American People” – a title used in earlier messages. Apart from Bin Laden himself talking no other images are seen. In the As-Sahab “closing” of the tape, a date and a statement is given, saying the tape was made in 1431 a.H. – meaning probably in 2010 according to the Gregorian calender. The Arabic closing statement of the 6 minutes and 40 seconds tape reads: “Either we live under Islam or we die a generous death”.
So what could be the topic Bin Laden talks about in this tape? Why was the video if recorded last year, not released since then? Why is the US government not releasing the content of the Bin Laden speech to the American people?
A) - the video was made in 2010 but Bin Laden himself or the As-Sahab staff decided not to release it – maybe because they thought it could harm the secret life and hideout of the Al-Qaida leader or because they realized actually footage was not necessary to deliver the message and instead they released an audio tape of the speech
B) – the message is not a specific one dealing with an current event like a hostage taking in North Africa, the US drone campaign, the parcel bomb plot or other developments that happened last year but a very universal statement – that can be released at any time, for example a speech where Bin Laden talks about his own death.
C) – the Bin Laden speech deals with a very specific event and the Al-Qaida founder talks about for example: the parcel bomb plot by Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. The attacks failed in October 2010 but maybe Bin Laden recorded the tape in case the bomb successfully exploded in the United States
D) – the video message could be one recorded as a claim of responsibility for an attack that was not yet carried out for example: the alleged “Euro-Plot”
Until the Pentagon releases a transcript or the audio of the video, Al-Qaida releases the tape or a US official says in a statement what Bin Laden talks about, we will not find out what his final tape was about.
The fact that it seems to be ready for release until the US Special Forces got hold of it, could very well mean the As-Sahab distributors, those releasing the propaganda to the Internet forums, are already in possession of the tape. A Pentagon statement after the Abbottabad raid said, it is likely a new tape of Bin Laden will appear soon as he recorded one shortly before his death. It contains the usual propaganda, the Pentagon said, so it shouldn´t be a surprise for the public.
Al-Qaida itself highlighted in the eulogy statement to its Amir, that a message of Bin Laden, recorded in the week before he was killed, will be released soon, also dealing with the events in North Africa.
A few weeks ago I interviewed Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA´s “Alec-Station” known as the “Bin Laden-Unit”. I asked him why since 2007 there was no new video apprearence of the Al-Qaida leader. Scheuer´s answer was mainly his own opinion but still a very interesting thought:
“The one thing Bin Laden knows that we have long since forgotten: there is power in silence. I suspect we keep getting audios, there won´t be a video till he attacks again in the United States. After that occurs we get a video in which he talks to the American people in sorrow rather than anger, saying: I warned you about this.”