Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for the botched Christmas Day bombing of a US airliner and vowed further strikes on American targets, according an audio message broadcast on Sunday.
The brief statement carried by Al-Jazeera satellite television warned Washington that the attack was meant as a similar message to that of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US by 19 Al-Qaeda militants who hijacked airliners and crashed them into buildings.
Bin Laden praised as a “hero” Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who allegedly tried to detonate explosives on a Northwest Airlines plane approaching Detroit on December 25 but was foiled by passengers.
“The message that was conveyed through the (attacked) plane of the hero Umar Farouk is to stress earlier messages delivered to you by the heroes of the 11” September attack, he said.
“That (message) is, that America should not dream of security until we enjoy it as a reality in Palestine,” he added.
The authenticity of the statement could not immediately be verified, but Al-Jazeera said the voice was bin Laden’s.
“Had we been able to deliver our messages to you in words, we would not have sent them by planes,” the statement said.
“It is not fair that you (America) enjoy a good life while our brothers in Gaza endure the worst standard of living. Therefore, God willing, our attacks against you will continue as long as you maintain your support to Israel.”
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day plane attack, and analysts said bin Laden through his latest statement is stressing that he is still in overall control of the network.
Intelligence officials, military analysts and other experts have long believed he is holed up along the remote mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and have hinted that groups such as AQAP could be operating autonomously.
Washington has accused AQAP of training Abdulmutallab, who spent some time in Yemen.
The US administration is putting pressure on Yemen to clamp down on Al-Qaeda militants in the impoverished country, and an international meeting to discuss militancy in Yemen will be held on January 27 in London.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in London on Sunday that the foiled Christmas attack marks a “new phase” in Al-Qaeda’s campaign against the West.
“The heart of the Al-Qaeda senior leadership remains on the Afghan/Pakistan border,” Miliband said.
“But there is a real issue in Yemen — the fact that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula should have tried to strike in Detroit marks a new phase in the campaign and that’s why there’s an important meeting on Yemen on Wednesday.”
Yemen’s government has intensified its campaign against Al-Qaeda, launching waves of air strikes on the extremists’ hideouts, and insists it can battle the group on its own, without any foreign military intervention.
Sanaa stopped granting visas to foreigners at airports on Thursday in a bid to curb a feared inflow of militants, believed to be training with Al-Qaeda.
Earlier this week, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a report warning that AQAP might be training as many as three dozen Americans who converted to Islam in prison.
Intelligence reports have pointed for some time at Yemen as the new hub for Al-Qaeda fighters as pressure increases on them in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Michael Leiter, director of the US National Counterterrorism Center, told lawmakers in September that Yemen could become a base for Al-Qaeda to train and plot anti-US attacks.
Analysts believe that the problems facing Yemen, including a Shiite rebellion in the north, secession bid in the south, and poverty, create a perfect environment for Al-Qaeda to thrive.
US intelligence chiefs last Wednesday admitted that they missed a slew of warning signs that should have prevented the attempted airliner attack.
A US grand jury has indicted 23-year-old Abdulmutallab on six counts arising from the attempt to blow up the jet packed with 279 passengers and 11 crew on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit.
Bin Laden, who has a 50-million-dollar bounty on his head, last made a public statement four months ago when he was quoted on September 25 by SITE Intelligence Group monitoring service as urging European countries to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan.