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Bin Laden's Offer of Truce Fails to Turn Europe Against US

(June 9, 2004) European leaders have vigorously rejected the offer of a ‘truce’ or ‘non-aggression’ from terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, who said his terror network al-Qaeda might spare Europe from further attack in exchange for the withdrawal of their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. European leaders have unanimously said that there could be no negotiating with his al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Political leaders throughout Europe agreed that the best response to bin Laden's truce offer would be to ignore it while continuing to ferret out and stop terrorists all over the world.

Many saw the audio-taped offer as a blatant attempt by the al-Qaeda leader to drive a wedge between America and its European allies, and between the European electorate and their governments. Analysts said the message appeared to mark a new strategy of trying to manipulate antiwar sentiment in Europe to bring pressure on governments that support the United States.

On the tape, the speaker said the offer was "in response to the recent positive developments that have appeared," an apparent reference to elections in Spain three days after the March 11 Madrid bombings and the subsequent defeat of Spain's ruling party when the Spanish people took to the streets and blamed their own government rather than al-Qaeda for the Madrid atrocity. This may have sent bin Laden a message that he could use terrorism to influence European policy.

In the message, which runs just over seven minutes long, the purported bin Laden said "the truce will begin when the last soldier leaves our countries." The man also states that recent polls have shown that the majority of Europeans want to reconcile with the Islamic world and calls on European governments to respond to the offer within three months.

The European Union and national governments across Europe responded with outrage to the alleged audio tape. European Commission President Romano Prodi scoffed at the apparent bin Laden message. "How could you possibly react to this statement? There is no possibility for a deal under a terrorist threat. It is completely impossible," he told reporters.

In Italy, a nation shocked by the killing of an Italian civilian captured by militants in Iraq, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said: "It's unthinkable that we may open a negotiation with bin Laden, everybody understands this."

"I don't think we need Osama bin Laden to start telling us how to handle our political affairs," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Britain, which is a member of the Coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan, rejected the notion it would remove its soldiers in return for immunity from attack. The British government accused bin Laden of pursuing a "cynical strategy" of trying to divide Europe and the United States.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the al Qaeda leader's offer should be treated with the contempt they deserve. "This is a murderous organization which seeks impossible objectives by the most violent of means and has said in terms that whilst we love life they love death. I'm afraid that it is yet another bare-faced attempt to divide the international community." He added: "It cannot and will not succeed because everybody knows that there is only one side on which the international community can be in the fight against terrorism."

In London, the Foreign Office ruled out any deal with al-Qaeda. “Their attacks are against the very idea of co-existence," the Foreign Office said. “The right response is to continue to confront terrorism, not give in to its demands."

Another Foreign Office spokesman characterized the truce offer as "an absurdity" and ridiculed Osama bin Laden’s charge that Western countries attack Muslims. “It is al-Qaeda who kill Muslims," the spokesman emphasized. "In the last five years, as many as 4,000 people have died in terrorist attacks, many of these attacks have occurred in Islamic countries." Moreover, he stated, "Most of the people murdered… were local people going about their lives peacefully."

Al-Qaeda does not discriminate between civilians or security forces, Muslims or Christians, western democracies or Arab dictatorships. Nations are threatened with devastation following any real or imagined slight. France, for example, was passed over by al-Qaeda's terrorists in the build up to the Iraq war but suddenly came under the terror spotlight again when Paris introduced a ban on the wearing of the Muslim headscarf in schools.

A British opposition spokesman said the purported truce offered was a sign that the al-Qaida network is rattled.

"It is obviously an attempt by al-Qaida or the associates of al-Qaida, to try and drive a wedge between the coalition," said Michael Ancram, foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party. "They are frightened about the effectiveness of the coalition," Ancram said in an interview with BBC radio.

In Spain, where al-Qaeda terrorists killed 191 people in train bombings on 11 March, Spain’s new Socialist government denounced the offer of a truce. The Prime Minister elect did not mention the tape in an address to parliament, but vowed to fight terrorism. "There is no sense to terrorism. There is no policy in terrorism. There is just terror, death, blackmail," said incoming Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The new Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, said bin Laden's message, in which the man speaking justified the March 11 attacks, should be ignored completely. He told Spanish television: "Bin Laden is the enemy of all of us who seek peace, democracy and freedom. Therefore, we must not listen to him or pay attention to him."

French President Jacques Chirac immediately ruled out any negotiations "with terrorists", in response to the ‘truce’ offer. "There is no negotiation possible with terrorists," Chirac said. "Terrorism is a barbarous act which attacks innocent people, (and) which cannot be justified by any reason or any cause," he told a media conference. “Nothing can justify terrorism and, on that basis, nothing can allow any discussion with terrorists,” he added.

Germany, which is now helping to train Iraqi police and is a leading contributor to the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, also strongly rejected the truce offer. "Any attempt to split Europe will fail," said German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

A German government spokesman said: "There can be no negotiations with terrorists and serious criminals like Osama bin Laden. The international community must pursue the fight against international terrorism together. Germany will continue to make its contribution."

Hans-Joachim Schmidt, a senior research associate at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, said the offer was unlikely to affect German policy. "We are part of the NATO mission" in Afghanistan, Schmidt said. "This cannot work for the German government." Some Europeans, he said, believe that countries that refused to provide troops for the Iraq war have bought themselves protection from al-Qaeda attack.

Poland also dismissed the offer. Polish Foreign Minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said: "Look, one has to treat such claims, proposals by al Queda, with the contempt which they deserve. This is a murderous organisation which seeks impossible objectives by the most violent of means and has said in terms that whilst we love life, they love death. I am afraid that it is yet another bare-faced attempt to divide the international community. It cannot and will not succeed, because everybody knows that there is only one side on which the international community can be in the fight against terrorism."

American Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was pleased by the "very direct and clear reaction,” and that Europeans are saying they "will not be terrorized by these terrorists." "You can't make a deal with somebody like bin Laden," Powell said. "How can you make a deal with a terrorist?"

"I think that the international community realizes that they cannot give in to these kinds of threats," Secretary of State Powell told reporters in Washington. "I hope this will strengthen our determination to deal with terrorism and especially to do everything we can to bring Osama bin Laden to justice."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the tape is "a clear reminder we are still at war." "This is a clear reminder terrorists will use any excuse to carry out evil attacks on innocent human beings," said McClellan.

Bin Laden completely miscalculated what would happen when he attacked America directly on September 11, 2001. Instead of forcing the US into self-doubt, it united and mobilized America which then brought al-Qaeda to its knees. At this point, a full two thirds of the leadership of al-Qaeda have been captured or killed. Khalid Sheykh Mohammad, one of al-Qaeda's leaders was captured in Pakistan and is now providing the US with invaluable information on al-Qaeda.

It should also be noted that Osama bin Laden's purported truce proposal to Europe was a unilateral offer that was not open to negotiation, the leader of the radical Islamic group al-Mouhadjiroun said in remarks published on 16 April in Portugal.

"The message is from bin Laden himself, this I can confirm with total certainty," Omar Bakri Mohammed, who is suspected of having links with Abu Qatada, an alleged al-Qaeda leader in Europe, told the Publico newspaper.

"But it is in no way a proposal for dialogue. Al-Qaeda does not negotiate with states. It is a unilateral offer," the controversial London-based figure added.

Asked if al-Qaeda representatives would ever sit down with representatives of European or other Western nations to negotiate an end to the organization’s extremist activities, Bakri said: "That would never be possible."

"Al-Qaeda does not negotiate with governments. It is merely a self-defense group. It spreads terror in response to the terror of the West against Muslims. That is its language, its dialogue."
Harry Hayes

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