Advocates of action to combat climate change have a new champion, though it is unlikely they will be inviting him to campaign on their behalf any time soon. He is Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qai'da, the terrorist group that has specialised in a brand of global destruction all of its own.
Bin Laden is heard focusing on the issue of greenhouse emissions in a new audio tape that surfaced yesterday on several Islamic militant websites. "The number of victims caused by climate change is very big," he expounds on the tape, "bigger than the victims of wars."
Adopting what might almost be an avuncular tone, bin Laden also asks for the creation of a new development organisation to help Muslim communities in countries like Pakistan which is still suffering from the impact of this summer's devastating floods.
The American watchdog group SITE said it had positively identified the voice on the tape as that of bin Laden though its authenticity had still to be verified by the CIA and other agencies. It was widely taken as the latest attempt by al-Qa'ida to exploit the frustrations felt by millions of Pakistanis displaced by the floods and still awaiting aid. The message was mocked last night by Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, who expressed doubt that the people of Pakistan would be "comforted in getting the aid that is necessary from somebody that is not showing their face to the world".
He added that the United States "has no problem ... standing up anywhere in the world and pledging our commitment and assistance to help its people in a tragic time".
European leaders will be equally unmoved. Intelligence sources on both sides of the Atlantic confirmed that terror plots exposed last week targeting Britain, France and Germany and which were to have been similar to the commando attacks on hotels in Mumbai, India, in 2008, had been ordered directly by bin Laden. That assault paralysed India's commercial centre and left more than 150 people dead.
American officials believe the latest plots may also have been aimed at the US. "We know that Osama bin Laden issued the directive," said one official familiar with the intelligence. "And if he issued the directive, we just don't believe that the US wouldn't be on his short list of strategic targets. It has to be." The main source of the intelligence was a German native being held at Bagram Air Base, in Kabul.
Bin Laden accuses Western nations of failing in their generosity to Pakistan and other countries in need. "What governments spend on relief work is secondary to what they spend on armies," he said in the 11-minute tape, "Reflections on the Method of Relief Work". He went on: "If governments spent [on relief] only one per cent of what is spent on armies, they would change the face of the world for poor people."
The terror group has often portrayed itself as humanitarian in its outlook to win new converts in the modern world. The stance will appear most obscene to the families of victims of 9/11 of course.
"The famine and drought in Africa that we see," bin Laden opined, "and the flooding in Pakistan and other parts of the world, with thousands dead along with millions of refugees, that's why people with hearts should move quickly to save their brothers and sisters."
Just as unlikely is the image of bin Laden the environmentalist. "The huge climate change is affecting our nation and is causing great catastrophes throughout the Islamic world," the tape continues. The speaker goes on to declare that the challenge "calls for generous souls and brave men to take serious and prompt action to provide relief for their Muslim brothers in Pakistan."
It is not the first time bin Laden has offered thoughts on climate change. In a tape from January this year he said that "all the industrial states" were to blame for climate change, but added that "the majority of those states have signed the Kyoto Protocol and agreed to curb the emission of harmful gases", before pointing out that under President George Bush, the United States had failed to do so.
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