us analysts see political shift in bin laden's rhe

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    By John Solomon
    WASHINGTON, Dec 28 AP - US intelligence analysts believe Osama
    bin Laden has shifted from outright calls for violence to political
    arguments in recent taped messages in hopes of driving a wedge
    between the United States and its allies, officials said today.
    The analysts believe bin Laden is making the tactical shift to
    try to exploit some allies' concerns with US policy in the Middle
    East and to attract more moderate Muslims who distrust the United
    States but have not embraced al-Qaida's violence, the officials
    said.
    One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the
    CIA's technical analysis of a two-minute, five-second tape that
    surfaced on Monday concluded with "moderate confidence" that the
    voice is likely to be bin Laden's.
    Poor audio quality made it difficult to reach a more certain
    conclusion, but US officials are operating under the assumption
    that it is bin Laden's voice.
    That tape formally names Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi as al-Qaida's
    leader in Iraq and tries to persuade Muslims not to vote in the
    Iraqi elections set for January 30.
    Al-Zarqawi has captured worldwide attention for several
    beheadings of hostages.
    The official said US intelligence analysts detected a notable
    change in messages from bin Laden and deputy Ayman al-Zawahri in
    2004, with fewer threats and specific emphasis on offering
    political arguments against US policy toward Muslims and the Middle
    East.
    Analysts believe al-Qaida's leadership has "attempted to hone
    their political message in an effort to persuade the world to rally
    to their cause. They have gone to great lengths to explain
    al-Qaida's objections to the West - and this message specifically
    seeks to isolate the United States from its allies," the official
    said.
    Officials caution, however, the change in tactic doesn't mean
    al-Qaida or its allies have foresworn violence.
    US intelligence continues to gather evidence showing the group's
    intention to strike Americans, including a recent attack on a US
    diplomatic post in Saudi Arabia.
    Experts say the noticeable change emerged last April in a bin
    Laden audio tape that offered a truce between al-Qaida and any
    Western country that withdrew from fighting in Muslim countries.
    A videotape also surfaced in October, shortly before the US
    presidential elections, telling Americans they could spare
    themselves from future terror attacks if their country stopped
    threatening the security of Muslims.
    Both tapes were in sharp contrast to the gun-wielding bin Laden
    seen in a 2003 videotape to strike again.
    In Monday's tape, bin Laden makes an argument against Iraqi
    participation in next month's elections.
    "In the balance of Islam, this constitution is infidel and
    therefore everyone who participates in this election will be
    considered infidels. Beware of henchmen who speak in the name of
    Islamic parties and groups who urge people to participate in this
    blatant apostasy," the speaker thought to be bin Laden said in the
    tape.
    Roger Cressey, who was the deputy to former White House
    counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke in the Clinton and first
    Bush administrations, said the most recent message shows bin Laden
    trying to broaden his audience.
    "He is trying to position himself as speaking to a global
    Islamic community in a way that further defines the fight against
    the West in his terms," Cressey said. "If he can show he's more
    than just a rank and file terrorist, that will help his message."
    Cressey said bin Laden is trying to reach "the part of the
    Muslim world that is sympathetic to the message, but is not willing
    to endorse him. These are fence sitters, people who have serious
    problems with the US policy but have not become activists against
    us yet."
    This week's tape also provides fresh evidence that the leader of
    the bloody Iraqi insurgency has merged with the world's most famous
    terror group in a relationship that benefits both.
    Two months ago, al-Zarqawi renamed his group to add the name
    al-Qaida.
    US intelligence analysts believe the merger "gives al-Zarqawi
    access to a broader network, more tools, resources, and the ability
    to plug into the established al-Qaida revenues and assets," the US
    official said.
    Private security experts say bin Laden also benefits from
    allying himself with an anti-American fighter who gets daily
    publicity.
    But the alliance can also come at a price: Bin Laden is now tied
    to a man directing bomb attacks against Iraq's majority Shi'ite
    Muslims as well as Americans.
    "Bin Laden gets the benefits of Zarqawi's notoriety," said Vince
    Cannistraro, a former CIA counter-terrorism official. "He
    (al-Zarqawi) has got the pre-eminent insurgency in Iraq. He's the
    one who is the bloodiest, who carried out the most dramatic and
    public suicide bombings."
    The difference between this and other bin Laden alliances,
    Cannistraro said, is that bin Laden - a Sunni Muslim - "has not
    been a vocal enemy against the Shi'ites. By adopting Zarqawi, he's
    taking that whole package, someone who is virulently anti-Shi'ite."
    Peter Bergen, a fellow at the New American Foundation, a
    Washington think tank, said the recent rash of messages from
    al-Qaida also highlights the failure of the US search for bin
    Laden. "The tapes are coming thick and fast, which means they (the
    terrorists) are feeling secure," he said.
 
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