Perhaps it was just a bizarre coincidence that it was an American Airlines flight that crashed at 9:17 a.m. in New York—the same airline and about the same time as the first attack against the World Trade Center. But it follows President Bush’s address to the UN this weekend, and happened at a time when Taliban forces are reported to be collapsing in Afghanistan.
While the Bush administration did not call the incident an attack, the FBI is investigating the possibility of an explosion on board the plane, which carried 255 passengers. All three airports in the New York area were initially closed, and the city briefly shut down incoming traffic on bridges and tunnels. Even if the incident turns out to have been purely a mechanical breakdown, this latest round of sirens, flames, and nonstop news reports has created again the kind of fear Al Qaeda aims for.
The UN, where world leaders were still engaged in debate, was immediately put in partial lockdown. Today’s crash came just hours after Bush drew praise from Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat for mentioning Palestine along with Israel in his speech. That praise was followed swiftly by scathing words from senior Al Qaeda member Ayman Azh-Zhawahiri, who told an Al-Jazeera news show that Bush was heaping scorn on the Muslim world because he would not meet with Arafat personally.
Speaking on behalf of Al Qaeda, Azh-Zhawahiri accused the Bush administration of sidestepping the issue. “If talk about Palestine—and this is the central issue for Muslims; for more than 50 years, it is the main instigator for most incidents in the heart of the Muslim world and the events in Washington and New York—if talk about this is off-topic, then there is no way but jihad for the cause of God to liberate Palestine from the Jews and the Americans. The issue of Palestine, or more precisely the Israeli-American crime in Palestine, will remain the essential axis of the conflict in the heart of the Muslim world and the greatest impetus for Muslims’ jihad against America.
“America will remain an exporter of her transgression and the illusion of her power and arrogance,” he added. “But we confirm for [America] that the issue of our jihad, by God’s will, [remains] until we liberate our holy sites from the American Jewish enemy, until the last American Jewish soldier departs from Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula.”
After derisively referring to Bush’s assertion that America had crushed Al Qaeda, he declared, “The whole world will know after the next strikes—by God’s will—which of us is the liar and who is truthful.”
Osama bin Laden has been sending mixed signals of late. Hamid Mir, a correspondent from the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, interviewed the Western world’s most wanted man last week. Mir said he thought the terrorist mastermind has softened his views on the U.S. “He took a U-turn on the issue of the killing of Americans,” Mir reported. “Previously, he was quoted in different interviews saying, ‘I am against all the Americans.’ But this time, he said, ‘I’m not against all the American people. I am only against the American policies.'”