Bin Laden has released a new audio tape to claim responsibility for the Christmas Day airline plot that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula tried to carry out. It’s sort of like the 7th grade girl who tries to take credit for hooking up two friends who everyone knew were already pursuing each other. It was going to happen anyway, but unable to allow herself to not be part of the big fuss over this exciting new development in the lame world of middle school, she has to find a way to insert herself into the discussion.
There’s no evidence to date that Bin Laden had any knowledge about the Christmas plot, and it’s safe to assume he didn’t. If he had knowledge of every terror plot that was conjured up, the volume of communication could very well lead to his demise. The short version of what appears to have happened is Abdulmutallab was radicalized, approached the Yemeni elements of Al-Qaeda who embraced him and upon his arrival in the Gulf, the plot was hatched and blessed by Anwar al-Awlaki. No Bin Laden. No Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Bin Laden can take credit for his role in setting up Al-Qaeda and his expansive network of affiliates and cells, but operationally, this isn’t his handiwork. He needs this larger-than-life image of being able to control thousands of global followers at will from the shadows in order to preserve his allure, especially considering how quickly his prestige and support has fallen in the Muslim world since 9/11. He’s still extremely dangerous, but his showing off tells us something about the difficulties he is facing.