DUBAI (AFP) – Osama bin Laden has warned that Al-Qaeda will kill Americans if the mastermind of the 2001 attacks on the United States, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, is executed, in a tape Al-Jazeera television aired Thursday.
“The White House has declared its wish to execute (Sheikh Mohammed and his co-accused). The day the United States takes such a decision, it would be also taking the decision that any of you falling into our hands will be executed,” bin Laden said in the audio message.
The Al-Qaeda chief said US President Barack Obama was “still walking in the footsteps” of his predecessor, George W. Bush, by escalating the war in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden also condemned Obama for “oppressing our prisoners that you are holding, beginning with the mujahid (holy warrior) hero Khaled al-Sheikh Mohammed.”
US politicians, he added in the audiotape, had “oppressed us and still do, especially by backing Israel, which occupies the land of Palestine.”
The US-based IntelCenter monitoring service said in a statement that the tape “appears to be authentic.”
“Bin Laden’s specific threat serves as a valid indicator of an increased threat of kidnappings targeting Americans in the immediate period and following through the Khaled Sheikh Mohammed trial in the US,” IntelCenter warned.
The Kuwaiti-born Sheikh Mohammed is being held in Guantanamo Bay and was subjected to repeated water-boarding, a now banned interrogation technique that simulates drowning, after his 2003 arrest in Pakistan.
He told a military tribunal in 2008 that he did not “want to waste time” and would plead guilty to the terror charges.
The United States is just weeks away from a landmark decision on whether to try Sheikh Mohammed and his four alleged co-conspirators in a civilian federal court or in a military tribunal.
The Obama administration had announced it would put them on trial at a courthouse in New York, just steps from where the World Trade Center that collapsed in the 2001 attacks had stood.
But the plans have met a backlash from Republican lawmakers who introduced legislation to require a military trial, throwing a challenge to Obama months ahead of mid-term elections in November.
Obama made bringing Sheikh Mohammed to a civilian trial a centrepiece of a broader plan to end what he saw as serious abuses of law in the time of Bush and his powerful vice president Dick Cheney.
Bin Laden’s latest statement was his first since he issued two in January, one of them claiming responsibility for the botched Christmas Day bombing of a US airliner and vowing further strikes on American targets.
Bin Laden also referred to US support for Israel in the January message.
“God willing, our attacks against you will continue as long as you maintain your support to Israel,” he said.
“America should not dream of security until we enjoy it as a reality in Palestine,” added the Saudi-born militant who has a 50-million-dollar bounty on his head.
In the other tape released in January, bin Laden blamed major industrial nations for climate change, a statement the US State Department said showed that the Al Qaeda chief was struggling to stay relevant.