Bin Laden tape piles pressure on U.S. companies
Thursday April 15, 2004 3:43 pm ET
By Sue Pleming###
WASHINGTON, April 15 (Reuters) - U.S. corporations may face a growing threat from terror groups after a message purportedly from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden lambasted the work of foreign firms in Iraq, terrorism experts said on Thursday.
The tape, which CIA analysts said most likely was bin Laden's voice, complained the Iraqi war was earning millions of dollars for companies such as Halliburton (NYSE:HAL - News), the Texas firm run by Vice President Dick Cheney between 1995-2000.
"This war earns millions of dollars for big companies, whether those who manufacture weapons or those involved in reconstruction such as Halliburton and its sisters and daughters," said the tape, whose main message was to offer a truce with European countries if they stop attacking Muslims.
Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root is the U.S. military's biggest contractor in Iraq and like other foreign firms there has come under increasing attack by insurgents who view them as soft targets.
Shibley Telhami, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution and the University of Maryland, said al Qaeda was trying to instill even more fear in firms working in Iraq by mentioning them in the audio tape.
Telhami said al Qaeda was capitalizing on a trend in the Arab world in which companies such as Halliburton and others with major contracts in Iraq were seen as collaborators with U.S. policy.
U.S. companies, he said, needed to be even more on the alert, but added the threat in Iraq was still more from Iraqi insurgents rather than groups such as al Qaeda.
Halliburton has lost 30 employees and subcontractors in Iraq. Seven more employees have been missing since last Friday when their convoy was ambushed.
Asked about the bin Laden tape, Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall said for security reasons she could not comment: "All we can say is that this is an unprecedented time in American history."
Dan Benjamin, a former counter-terrorism official and co-author of "The Age of Sacred Terror," said Jihadists were eager to carry out successful attacks against Americans and corporate targets were often easier than military ones.
But Benjamin said it was doubtful al Qaeda leaders had a meeting and decided to put U.S. corporations at the top of their hit list.
"What they have decided -- as bin Laden said in the 1998 fatwa -- (is) "we will kill Americans wherever we will find them"."
Military strategist Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said bin Laden's mention of contractors should put them on even higher security alert.
"Obviously, one way to break up the U.S. nation-building in Iraq is to attack the most vulnerable aspect of it and that is contractors who are not Iraqis and not Muslims."
But Mark Shaheen, a former counter-terrorism official for the Bush administration, described the tape as the "usual empty kind of rhetoric" from terror groups.
He suspected bin Laden was trying to gain Arab sympathy by echoing a common conspiracy theory that America occupied Iraq for commercial reasons rather than to oust Saddam Hussein.