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Mon 14 Sep 2009 11:20 PM

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Bin Laden appears weakened in new message - analysts

Latest message urges Americans to pressure White House to end Iraq, Afghanistan wars.

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden appears to be a man weakened under pressure in his latest message, which is addressed directly to the American people, analysts said on Monday.In the message released to mark the eighth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States that killed almost 3,000 people, bin Laden urged Americans to pressure the White House to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Titled "Message to the American People," the video - released by the As-Sahab media branch of Al-Qaeda - features a still image of bin Laden and an audio statement, said the IntelCenter US monitoring group.

In the message bin Laden says that US President Barack Obama is "powerless" to halt the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and must rethink his policy on Israel, accusing "neo-conservatives" of maintaining a grip on the White House.

Analysts said the latest message appeared to be less strident than the Al-Qaeda leader's previous diatribes against the West, and the United States in particular.

"There is a relatively new change, there is a transformation ... He is not giving any warnings and is seeking to justify the September 11 attacks," said Diaa Rashwan, a leading expert on militant groups.

"For the first time, he didn't mention or praise the martyrs who perpetrated the September 11 attacks," said Rashwan, who is deputy head of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

The latest audio, he added, comes three weeks after Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri released a message about the situation in the Swat valley in Pakistan during which he made an unusual number of religious references calling for the unity of the fighters.

"All this demonstrates clearly that Al-Qaeda is being affected by developments on the ground," said Rashwan, adding that for the first time bin Laden speaks positively of three US presidents.

"He mentions Obama's address to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 3, he evokes Jimmy Carter's stance towards the Palestinians and he says that Obama will have the same destiny as John Kennedy (who was assassinated in 1963) if he follows a different policy from the neo-conservatives," Rashwan explained.

Theodore Karacic, head of research and development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), agrees.

"It's important that we're hearing his voice again after a while and it's coming at the time of the September 11 anniversary," Karacic said in Dubai.

"It's too much bluster, bin Laden is not putting any emphasis on action ... his comment is a political statement rather than a dire warning."

Bin Laden typically releases a statement annually around September or October.

"Ask yourselves to determine your position: is your security, your blood, your children, your money, your jobs, your homes, your economy, and your reputation dearer to you than the security of the Israelis, their children and their economy?" bin Laden asked in his latest message.

"If you choose your security and cessation of war, and this is what the polls have shown, this requires you to work to punish those on your side who play with our security.

"We are ready to respond to this choice on aforementioned sound and just bases."

Saudi analyst Anwar Eshki, head of the Middle East Centre for Strategic Studies in Jeddah, also believes the Al-Qaeda leader has changed.

"This is the first time I have seen bin Laden that weak," said Eshki, who had known the Al-Qaeda leader when he lived in Saudi Arabia.

"The message shows that he is in a difficult situation especially since we have heard that he has started to feel the pressure in the Pakistani tribal areas at a time when a lot of militants are leaving Pakistan for Yemen or Somalia.

"Al-Qaeda is facing a process of being dismantled due to the strong blows it is being dealt as well as the Saudi process of rehabilitation," he added, referring to Riyadh's policy of putting militants who wish to reform through an intensive rehabilitation programme.

The last audiotape by the Al-Qaeda leader was released on June 3. In that missive his tone was belligerent, pouring scorn on Obama's overture to the Islamic world and warning of decades of conflict ahead.

Bin Laden has a 50-million-dollar bounty on his head and has been in hiding for the past eight years.

Intelligence officials, military analysts and other experts have long believed he is hiding along the remote mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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