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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 April 2006, 20:12 GMT 21:12 UK
Motive behind Bin Laden's message
The BBC's security correspondent Gordon Corera assesses what motivated the latest audio tape attributed to Osama Bin Laden, and looks for other clues in the message.

As with many of his previous messages, this latest tape from Osama Bin Laden is targeted at dual audiences - public opinion in the West and in the Muslim world.

But for both, the message is the same - a reminder that al-Qaeda's leader is still at large and still claims to be relevant.

Osama Bin Laden in undated file photo
Bin Laden: Still on the run four and a half years after 9/11
It will be Bin Laden's hope that this message is partly conveyed simply by appearing, although the fact that it is in the medium of an audio tape rather than video tape does blunt the impact.

He will also be hoping that his reference to the cut-off of funds to the Hamas government in the Palestinian territories will also show that he can speak to the key issues of the day that concern Muslims.

Bin Laden's claim that the cut-off is evidence of the war against Muslims by the "crusader" West is just the latest attempt to associate al-Qaeda with the Palestinian cause, which has far greater popularity amongst Muslims than the actions of al-Qaeda.

A sign of that came when a spokesperson for Hamas quickly disassociated the group from Bin Laden's comments. There have been reports in recent months however, that al-Qaeda is seeking to increase its presence in the Palestinian territories and also in Lebanon.

'Westerners responsible'

In previous messages, Bin Laden had sometimes tried to differentiate and drive a wedge between governments of the West and the general public, offering a truce to Europe if it changed its government and their policies of intervention in the Muslim world.

But more ominously, in this tape he claims that the continuing "war" is a "responsibility shared between the people and the governments".

Women in a refugee camp near Seleah village in Darfur, western Sudan
Bin Laden's urged militants to fight "crusader plunderers" in Darfur
The section of the tape which will cause greatest consternation in the West is the reference to the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. In the West, this is perceived as a humanitarian crisis and there remains pressure to send in troops to intervene.

However, in some quarters of the Muslim world, there is a conspiratorial view that the West will seek to break apart Sudan in the way it is perceived as having broken apart Iraq.

Bin Laden knows Sudan well. He spent the early 1990s based there before moving to Afghanistan. During that period US troops were engaged in a humanitarian mission in nearby Somalia.

Bin Laden has claimed that his organisation was involved in training Somali fighters for an attack on US forces in 1993. The attack - which was later turned into a book and Hollywood film called Black Hawk Down - saw 18 US soldiers killed and had a huge impact on US public opinion, leading directly to the withdrawal of US troops.

Bin Laden is hoping that if Western troops do go into Sudan to deal with Darfur, al-Qaeda will be able to open up a new battlefront

Clearly, Bin Laden is hoping that if Western troops do go into Sudan to deal with Darfur, al-Qaeda will be able to replicate its earlier feat and open up a new battlefront.

In recent months there has been a shift in the assessment of al-Qaeda and a growing belief that even though its leadership is on the run, the organisation may still have the ability to plan and carry out attacks.

The fact that Bin Laden appears in an audio tape rather than on video is likely to be a sign that he remains worried over his security and concerned that the process of filming and distributing a tape could provide valuable clues to his whereabouts.

But that concern will be scant recompense for the United States, where officials will remain frustrated that four and a half years on, al-Qaeda's leader remains at large.

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