CAIRO – Osama bin Laden sought to draw a wider public into his fight against the United States in a new message Friday, dropping his usual talk of religion and holy war and focusing instead on an unexpected topic: global warming.
The al-Qaida leader blamed the United States and other industrialized nations for climate change and said the only way to prevent disaster was to break the American economy, calling on the world to boycott U.S. goods and stop using the dollar.
"The effects of global warming have touched every continent. Drought and deserts are spreading, while from the other floods and hurricanes unseen before the previous decades have now become frequent," bin Laden said in the audiotape, aired on the Arab TV network Al-Jazeera.
The terror leader noted Washington's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and painted the United States as in the thrall of major corporations that he said "are the true criminals against the global climate" and are to blame for the global economic crisis, driving "tens of millions into poverty and unemployment."
Bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders have mentioned global warming and struck an anti-globalization tone in previous tapes and videos. But the latest was the first message by bin Laden solely dedicated to the topic. It was also nearly entirely empty of the Islamic militant rhetoric that usually fills his declarations.
The change in rhetoric aims to give al-Qaida's message an appeal beyond hardcore Islamic militants, said Evan Kohlmann, of globalterroralert.com, a private, U.S.-based terrorism analysis group.
"It's a bridge issue," Kohlmann said. "They are looking to appeal to people who don't necessarily love al-Qaida but who are angry at the U.S. and the West, to galvanize them against the West" and make them more receptive to "alternative solutions like adopting violence for the cause."
"If you're looking to draw people who are disenchanted or disillusioned, what better issue to use than global warming," he said. While the focus on climate may be new, the tactic itself is not, he said: Al-Qaida used issues like the abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay to reach out to Muslims who might not be drawn to al-Qaida's ideology but are angry over the injustices.
Bin Laden "looks to see the issues that are the most cogent and more likely to get popular support," Kohlmann said.
The al-Qaida leader's call for an economic boycott helps in the appeal — providing a nonviolent way to participate in opposing the United States.
"People of the world, it's not right for the burden to be left on the mujahedeen (holy warriors) in an issue that causes harm to everyone," he said. "Boycott them to save yourselves and your possessions and your children from climate change and to live proud and free."
Al-Jazeera aired excerpts of the message and posted a transcript on its Web site. The tape's authenticity could not be independently confirmed, but the voice resembled that of bin Laden on messages known to be from him. The new message comes after a bin Laden tape released last week in which he endorsed a failed attempt to blow up an American airliner on Christmas Day.
In the new tape, bin Laden refers to the Dec. 18 climate conference in Copenhagen — indicated the message was made recently.
The message — whose length Al-Jazeera did not specify — makes only brief passing mentions of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine and instead hits on issues that could resonate at a time of widespread economic woes.
"The world is held hostage by major corporations, which are pushing it to the brink," he said. "World politics are not governed by reason but by the force and greed of oil thieves and warmongers and the cruel beasts of capitalism."
To stop global warming, he called for the "wheels of the American economy" to be brought to a halt. "This is possible ... if the peoples of the world stop consuming American goods."
"We must also stop dealings in the dollar and get rid of it as soon as possible," he said. "I know that this has great consequences and grave ramifications, but it is the only means to liberate humanity from slavery and dependence on America."
He also called for the "punishing and holding to account" of corporation chiefs, adding, "this should be easy for the American people to do, particularly those who were effected by Hurricane Katrina or those who lost their jobs, since these criminals live among them, particularly in Washington, New York and Texas."
The message represents a honing of al-Qaida's rhetoric. In 2007, bin Laden issued a tape in which he warned that human life is endangered by global warning, and he blamed democratic systems for seeking the interests of major corporations, said the U.S.-based Site Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamic militant message traffic.
But in Friday's message, the anti-democracy rhetoric is dropped.
"It's populism, pure and simple," Kohlmann said.