Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for the failed attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas in a new audio message released Sunday threatening more attacks on the United States.
However, a senior U.S. intelligence official in Washington said there is "no evidence whatsoever" that the al-Qaida leader had any involvement in the plot or even knew about it in advance. So the message indicates bin Laden may want to appear in direct command of the terror group's affiliates around the world at a time when some analysts have suggested he is mostly a figurehead.
The Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab told federal agents shortly afterward that he had been trained and given the explosives by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an al-Qaida-inspired offshoot in bin Laden's ancestral homeland of Yemen.
In the minute-long recording released to al-Jazeera Arabic news channel, bin Laden addressed President Barack Obama saying the recent attempt was meant to send a message similar to that of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The message delivered to you through the plane of the heroic warrior Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a confirmation of the previous messages sent by the heroes of the Sept. 11," he said. "America will never dream of security unless we will have it in reality in Palestine," he added.
"God willing, our raids on you will continue as long as your support for the Israelis continues."
U.S.-based IntelCenter, which monitors militant messages, said bin Laden used specific language he has used before in advance of attacks, a possible indicator of an upcoming action within the next 12 months.
The phrase "Peace be upon those who follow guidance" appears at the beginning and end of messages released in advance of attacks to warn al-Qaida's enemies that they need to change their ways or they will be attacked, IntelCenter said in a statement. The language, used in the latest message as well, allows al-Qaida to blame the actual attack on those who refuse to change their ways, which in the group's view forces a response.
There was no way to verify the voice on the audio message was actually bin Laden, but it resembled previous recordings attributed to him.
The U.S. said it could not immediately authenticate the message. But White House adviser David Axelrod told CNN's "State of the Union" that whatever the source, the message "contains the same hollow justification for the mass slaughter of innocents."
Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up his plane as it approached Detroit Metro Airport on Christmas Day. However, the explosive powder he was hiding in his underwear failed to detonate.
On Friday, Britain raised its terror threat alert to the second-highest level, one of several recent moves the country has made to increase vigilance against international terrorists after the Christmas Day bombing attempt on a flight from Amsterdam.
Bin Laden's message came four weeks after the Yemen-based group made its own claim of responsibility for the bomb plot with a different justification — linking it to Yemeni military attacks on al-Qaida targets with the help of U.S. intelligence.
But the U.S. intelligence official said al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is linked to the central al-Qaida that bin Laden heads and recent intelligence indicates there are ongoing contacts between al-Qaida in Yemen and in Pakistan. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
The message appeared to be an attempt by bin Laden to stay relevant, said Rohan Gunaratna, author of "Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror."
"The training and the definition of the attack was by the local leaders of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, so in many ways you can say bin Laden is exploiting for his benefit this particular attack," he said. "Bin Laden still wants to claim leadership for the global jihad movement."
Of all the various offshoots and branches of al-Qaida around the world, Gunaratna said the group in Yemen is one of the closest to bin Laden since it is made up of bodyguards and associates of the organization's top ideologues. Yemen is bin Laden's ancestral homeland.
"Today the operational relationship has somewhat suffered, but the ideological relationship is very strong and that is why bin Laden claimed this attack," Gunaratna said.
Two of the group's top members were former detainees released in November 2007 from the U.S. military prison Guantanamo Bay.
Since the Christmas Day attempt, the Yemeni government, at the U.S.'s urging has stepped up its attacks on the group's hideouts in the rugged country's remote hinterland.
Analysts have long debated how much control bin Laden, who is believed to be somewhere in Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, really has over the various organizations using his group's name.
The Yemen-based group, however, has closer ties than most to bin Laden and his key lieutenants, many having once been their bodyguards.
In the past year, bin Laden's messages have concentrated heavily on the situation of the Palestinians in attempt to rally support from Muslims around the world.
Some analysts say bin Laden is focusing on the close U.S.-Israeli relationship because he is worried about Obama's popularity across the Middle East with his promises to withdraw from Iraq and because his father was a Muslim from the African nation of Kenya.
The plight of the Palestinians, especially in the blockaded Gaza Strip where 1,400 were killed in an Israeli offensive a year ago, angers many in the Arab world.
"The Palestinian conflict was never part of the al-Qaida original mandate, but Osama is clearly exploiting it," Gunaratna said.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Andy David dismissed the latest al-Qaida message and its attempt to link Israel with attacks on the U.S.
"This is nothing new. He has said this before," he said. "Terrorists always look for absurd excuses for their despicable deeds."
The last public message from bin Laden appears to have been on Sept. 26, when he demanded that European countries pull their troops out of Afghanistan. The order came in an audiotape that also warned of "retaliation" against nations that are allied with the United States in fighting the war.
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