CAIRO — Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden sought to drum up support by taking advantage of Pakistan’s flood tragedy with a new audiotape released Friday criticizing Muslim governments for their slow response and calling for the creation of a new relief body to aid Muslims.
It was the third message in recent weeks from al-Qaida figures concerning the massive August floods that displaced 8 million people in Pakistan, signaling a concentrated campaign by the terror group to exploit public discontent and present itself as protectors of the poor.
“What governments spend on relief work is secondary to what it spends on its armies,” bin Laden says on the 11-minute tape called, “Reflections on the Method of Relief Work.” The authenticity of the tape could not be immediately verified.
The top al-Qaida leader said a new “well-funded” relief organization should be created to study Muslim regions near bodies of water to prevent future flooding, to create development projects in impoverished regions and to work on farming and agriculture to guarantee food security.
He called on Muslim merchants to direct their resources to cultivating agricultural land in countries like Sudan that aren’t used for farming.
“Merchants are the knights who will save this region from famine and must avoid investing in worthless projects,” he said.
The audiotape was posted on Islamic militant websites, according to the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi forums and provided a copy of the message. The tape is aired over a still photograph of a smiling bin Laden superimposed over a picture of a man distributing aid.
Bin Laden takes a softer, more humanitarian tone after the two other recent al-Qaida messages concerning the floods.
In a video released last week, a U.S.-born al-Qaida spokesman, Adam Gadahn, urged Muslims in Pakistan to join Islamist militants fighting their nation’s rulers, saying that Islamabad’s “sluggish and halfhearted” response to recent floods showed it did not care for them.
Before that, al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, made a thinly veiled call on Pakistanis to rise up against their government over what he said was the “failure” of authorities there to provide relief to flood victims.
Friday’s message was the first from bin Laden since an audiotape released in March, in which he threatened retaliation if the U.S. executes Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed architect of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.