Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden called on the Europeans to stop helping the United States in the war in Afghanistan, saying America is "ebbing" in excerpts of a new audiotape aired Thursday on Al-Jazeera television.
Bin Laden said he was the "only one responsible" for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, arguing that it was unjust for the Americans to have invaded Afghanistan, where he accused U.S. forces and their allies of intentionally killing women and children.
The message appeared to be a new attempt by bin Laden to influence public opinion in the West. In 2004, he offered Europeans a truce if they stopped attacking Muslims, then later spoke of a truce with the United States. In both cases, Al Qaeda later denounced the countries for not accepting its offers.
This has been the deadliest year in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, with more than 6,100 people killed — including over 800 civilians — in militant attacks and military operations, according to an AP tally of figures from Afghan and western officials. NATO strikes that have killed civilians have raised frictions with the U.S.-allied Afghan government.
Al-Jazeera aired two brief excerpts of a few seconds each of the audiotape, titled "Message to the European Peoples," which al-Qaida had announced several days ago that it would release soon. The full message — the fifth by the al-Qaida leader this year — was not yet released on Islamic militant Web sites where al-Qaida usually posts its messages.
"The events of Manhattan were retaliation against the American-Israeli alliance's aggression against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, and I am the only one responsible for it. The Afghan people and government knew nothing about it. America knows that," bin Laden said.
He said European nations joined the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan "because they had no other alternative, only to be a follower."
"The American tide is ebbing, with God's help, and they will leave back to their countries," he said, addressing Europeans. "Therefore it is better for you to stand against your leaders who are dropping in on the White House, and to work seriously to lift the injustice against the believers."
"All your victims from bombings were children and women, and you know that women do not fight, but you target them even when they are celebrating to break their morale," he said.
Bin Laden ended more than a year without releasing a message with a new videotape in September — the first new footage of him in nearly three years. In it, he spoke against capitalism and democracy and said the U.S. was failing in Iraq.
Since then, he released several audiotapes, calling for a holy war against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and urging Iraqi insurgents to unite their ranks.
Al Qaeda has dramatically stepped up its messages, seen as a sign of its increasing technical sophistication and the relative security felt by its top leadership, believed to be hiding in the remote Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.
The message was the 89th released this year by Al Qaeda's media wing, Al-Sahab, an average of one release every three days, double the rate in 2006, according to IntelCenter, a U.S. counterterrorism group that monitors militant messaging.