June 3, 2009 / 2:04 PM / 10 years ago

Double blast against Obama shows strain on Qaeda

By William Maclean, Security Correspondent

LONDON, June 3 (Reuters) - A double blast from al Qaeda against Barack Obama shows the group is as worried as ever by the persuasive skills of the U.S. president, who makes a speech to Muslims on Thursday.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in an audio recording aired on Wednesday by Al Jazeera television, said Obama had planted the seeds of "revenge and hatred" towards the United States in the Muslim world and he warned Americans to prepare for the consequences.

A day earlier, the militant network’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri urged Egyptians not to be seduced by Obama’s ‘polished words’ when he makes a major address in Cairo seeking to repair ties with the Muslim world.

For some, al Qaeda’s concerted attempt to upstage Obama is a propaganda own goal that shows its normally media-savvy operatives in disarray following the departure of Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush. They found Bush easy to stereotype as a belligerent, Muslim-hating cowboy.

"Zawahri is right to be worried," said Edwin Bakker, a senior research fellow at the Dutch Clingendael Institute in the Hague.

"Al Qaeda partly lives on anti-Americanism and the ‘war on terror’. Now Bush has gone and been replaced by a guy who’s second name is Hussein. And they fear his speech really is going to have a positive effect."

Obama has chosen Egypt to make an address to the Islamic world that he had promised for early in his presidency.

He will seek to dispel resentments inflamed by U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington by militant Islamists

"Obama and his administration have planted seeds for hatred and revenge against America," the Saudi-born bin Laden declared, saying Obama was treading in the footsteps of his predecessor.

"Let the American people prepare to continue to reap what has been planted by the heads of the White House in the coming years and decades," bin Laden said.

In an audio recording posted on an al Qaeda-linked Islamist website, Zawahri, an Egyptian, said Obama was not welcome in Egypt and urged Egyptians to "stand united in the face of this criminal".

Zawahri’s language was somewhat milder than his denunciation of Obama published in November in which he accused Obama of betraying his race and his father’s Muslim heritage.

Zawahri then attacked Obama as a "house Negro," a racially-charged term used by 1960s black American Muslim leader Malcolm X to describe black slaves loyal to white masters.

But Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of London-based daily al-Quds al-Arabi, said Zawahri’s words showed al Qaeda was panicking.

"They know Obama is popular in a huge part of the Arab and Muslim world because the man is actually trying to address America’s record in the region," he said.



ZAWAHRI "DESPERATE"

"Zawahri is desperate. There is no substantial argument in his piece: He cannot say like he did with Bush that ‘this is the man who killed a million Iraqis and supports the Israelis’. Everybody knows Obama is at odds with the Israelis."

Others say Zawahri had little choice but to speak out now.

"Zawahri and Obama are competing for votes, if you will, and this can be seen as a ‘publicity steal’ in which he grabs the headlines first," said Raphael Perl, an official of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"I wouldn’t characterise al Qaeda’s reaction to Obama as panic, but there is certainly concern."

Henry Wilkinson of Janusian, a security consultancy, agreed that Zawahri had little choice but to speak now, since Obama’s speech, once made, would dominate media coverage.

"I suspect he was addressing his followers rather than those who are undecided about al Qaeda. He is showing the leadership is aware of the importance of the Cairo speech and wants to denounce it head of time."

The success of Obama’s diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East, such as advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace and halting Iran’s nuclear programme, may depend on how well Obama is able to repair broader U.S. relations with the Islamic world. (Editing by Richard Balmforth)



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