US president-elect Barack Obama said on Wednesday that al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden remained the “No. 1 threat” to US security, after a new voice recording emerged from the terror group’s leader.
“Bin Laden and al-Qaeda are our no. 1 threat when it comes to American security,” Obama told reporters, after the recording warned the US president-elect of new fronts in bin Laden’s self-styled holy war against Western interests.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that they cannot create safe havens that can attack Americans. That’s the bottom line,” Obama said.
The 22-minute audio recording, whose authenticity was confirmed by the US-based Site Intelligence Group, was the first commentary from the al-Qaeda leader in eight months.
In an interview with CBS News, Obama signaled a more measured approach to the ever-elusive bin Laden, refusing any “dead or alive” ultimatum.
“I think that we have to so weaken his infrastructure that, whether he is technically alive or not, he is so pinned down that he cannot function,” Obama said. “My preference obviously would be to capture or kill him. But if we have so tightened the noose that he’s in a cave somewhere and can’t even communicate with his operatives, then we will meet our goal of protecting America.”
Obama spoke after earlier reiterating the principle that there was only “one president at a time” when asked about the tape following talks with US vice president-elect Joseph Biden and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
The bin Laden recording came as US President George W. Bush, whose presidency was shaped by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks launched by al-Qaeda militants, prepared to hand power over to Obama on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, bin Laden called on Muslims across the world to take revenge against Israel for its deadly offensive against Gaza, charging that the onslaught had been timed to take advantage of the dying days of the Bush administration.
The al-Qaeda leader criticized the legacy that Bush left his successor.
“Indicators suggest ... that 75 percent of the American people are pleased with the departure of the president who bogged them down in wars that they have nothing to do with,” bin Laden said. “He drowned them in economic turmoil that reached their ears. He passed a heavy legacy to his successor.”
Bin Laden said that Obama was already facing difficult choices in the face of two losing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It is most difficult for a man to inherit the legacy of a long guerrilla warfare with a patient and stubborn adversary, a war that is financed by usurious loans,” bin Laden said.
“If he withdraws from the war, it is military defeat. And if he continues it, he drowns in economic crisis. How can it be that he [Bush] passed over to him two wars, not one war, and he is unable to continue them. We are on our path to open other fronts, with God’s blessing,” he said.
Bin Laden listed Palestine, the Pakistani province of Waziristan, North Africa and Somalia as among the new battlefields where his fighters would take on the West.
The al-Qaeda leader slammed Arab governments for their inaction in the face of the Israeli onslaught against Gaza, now in its 19th day, accusing them of behaving like the puppet administrations established by the colonial powers in the Middle East between the wars.