BEIRUT — Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an American civilian jet in an audiotape broadcast Sunday on Arab television.
U.S. intelligence officials quickly raised doubts about bin Laden’s role and suggested the statement was an attempt to score propaganda points for a plot already claimed by an increasingly independent faction of his movement in Yemen.
In the clip, bin Laden said his group was behind the failed attempt allegedly carried out by Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight.
Speaking directly to President Barack Obama, the al-Qaida leader vowed to continue launching terrorist attacks against the United States as long as Washington supported what he described as Israel’s unjust treatment of Palestinians.
“From Osama to Obama: Peace upon the one who follows guidance,” he said on the tape, broadcast on the pan-Arab Al Jazeera satellite news channel, his image appearing on the screen as he spoke. “America will not dream of security until we experience it as a reality in Palestine.”
U.S. intelligence officials on Sunday did not cast doubt on the authenticity of the tape. But they expressed skepticism that bin Laden or his lieutenants, believed to be based in Pakistan, played a meaningful role in conceiving or executing the Christmas Day plot.
“Al-Qaida in Yemen takes strategic guidance from al-Qaida’s leadership in the tribal areas in Pakistan,” a U.S. intelligence official said. “But we’ve never seen indications that the senior al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan have directed tactical, day-to-day operational planning for them in Yemen. Their relationship hasn’t really functioned that way.”
No evidence has surfaced to indicate that Abdulmutallab traveled to Pakistan in preparation for the plot. Instead, U.S. spy agencies in recent weeks have had to acknowledge their failure to recognize significant clues that began to surface last year indicating a terrorist plot was taking shape in Yemen, and that the Nigerian allegedly was being groomed by al-Qaida operatives there for an attack.
U.S. officials described the message from bin Laden as an attempt to take advantage of a plot hatched by al-Qaida’s offshoot in Yemen to shore up his own reputation.
“Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula was behind the failed attack on Christmas Day. That’s clear,” the U.S. intelligence official said. “So a message like this — no matter whose voice it may be — should come as no surprise.”