Bin Laden, who heads a small group of international Sunni militants dedicated to the destruction of the US, had demonstrated once again that he was alive in defiance of a multibillion-dollar effort to capture or kill him.
But the echo of his latest remarks was hardly heard beyond his small circle of supporters. In both tapes he made populist appeals in what analysts said was a clear attempt to broaden Al Qaeda's appeal beyond its base to the broader Arab and Muslim world.
In the first tape, released Jan. 24, he praised failed Nigerian underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and sought to link Al Qaeda's goals in attacking the US to a desire to free Palestine. That's boilerplate for bin Laden. But the Jan. 28 tape took a more novel approach – fingering the US as the principal culprit in global warming and calling for a boycott of US commerce to bring its economy to its knees and thereby save the planet.
These populist appeals – on Palestine and the issue of global warming – have long been features of Al Qaeda rhetoric. The problem for bin Laden is that fewer and fewer in his audience appear to be listening to, never mind heeding, his call.
"After 9/11, a new bin Laden tape had the impact of an atomic bomb in the media," says Evan Kohlmann, an independent consultant on Islamist militant groups who has closely tracked Al Qaeda's propaganda messages and organizational tactics since shortly before the 2001 attacks. "But now, the fact [that Al Qaeda] has released so many recordings since then means their impact has been diluted. The supporters are still thrilled when they hear his voice, but it does not have the same punch beyond that."