WASHINGTON (AFP) – President-elect Barack Obama said Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden remain the “number one threat” to US security, after a new voice recording emerged from the terror group’s leader.
“Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda are our number one threat when it comes to American security,” Obama told reporters, after the recording warned the president-elect of new fronts in bin Laden’s self-styled holy war against Western interests.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that they cannot create safe havens that can attack Americans. That’s the bottom line.”
The 22-minute audio recording, whose authenticity was confirmed by the US-based Site Intelligence Group, was the first commentary from the Al-Qaeda leader in eight months.
In an interview with CBS News, Obama signaled a more measured approach to the ever-elusive bin Laden,refusing any “dead or alive” ultimatum.
“I think that we have to so weaken his infrastructure that, whether he is technically alive or not, he is so pinned down that he cannot function,” Obama said.
“My preference obviously would be to capture or kill him. But if we have so tightened the noose that he’s in a cave somewhere and can’t even communicate with his operatives, then we will meet our goal of protecting America.”
Obama spoke after earlier reiterating the principle that there is only “one president at a time” when asked about the tape following talks with his vice president-elect Joseph Biden and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
The bin Laden recording came as President George W. Bush, whose presidency was shaped by the September 11, 2001 attacks launched by Al-Qaeda militants, prepares to hand power over to Obama on Tuesday.
“Indicators suggest … that 75 percent of the American people are pleased with the departure of the president who bogged them down in wars that they have nothing to do with,” bin Laden said in the tape.
“He drowned them in economic turmoil that reached their ears. He passed a heavy legacy to his successor.”
In the recording, bin Laden called for a holy war to restore “Jerusalem and Palestine,” and slammed Arab and Islamic governments for their response to the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip that has left over 1,000 Palestinians dead.
He also discussed the likely policies of the Obama administration in the face of the global economic slowdown in further proof of the recording’s recent date.
It was the terror chief’s first message since May, when he slammed Western leaders for taking part in celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state.
Bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the mountainous region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Biden, who briefed the president-elect on his trip with Graham to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, promised “a significant shift” in Afghanistan.
After six years of war, he said, “it has not gotten better.”
In the congressional delegation’s contacts with the nations’ leaders, Biden said he occasionally expressed concerns about “some of their actions or lack of action.”
“Things are going to get tougher in Afghanistan before they get better,” he said, adding that “Pakistan’s position on Afghanistan is going to affect our ability to succeed.”
Obama has vowed to boost development in Afghanistan and shift the focus of the “war on terror” from Baghdad to Kabul as he winds down the war in Iraq.
A Washington Post report Tuesday said the new president will agree to Pentagon plans to send up to 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan in order to gain time to review the conflict against a resurgent Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
On the campaign trail, Obama vowed to launch military strikes on extremist targets inside Pakistan if Islamabad is unwilling or unable to act.