Latest bin Laden Tape Targets Japan for the First Time
John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM; Japan Fellow, Stanford University)
Japan, along with other U.S. allies assisting in the occupation of Iraq, has been singled out as a terrorist target by Osama bin Laden. On a tape aired by an Arab television network Al Jazeera, Osama bin Laden warned of suicide attacks against Japan among other nations saying that, "we reserve the right to respond at the appropriate time and place against all the countries participating in this unjust war, particularly Britain, Spain, Australia, the Netherlands, Poland, Japan and Italy." The Japanese government responded swiftly by issuing a travel advisory calling for Japanese tourists or residents overseas to stay alert especially in crowded places. Although directed primarily at Japanese people overseas, the advisory also served as a warning to all Japanese who for the first time heard their country's name uttered by the world's most feared terrorist.
Considerable media attention has been devoted to this latest threat, which seems to have been authenticated by the CIA, in all countries included on bin Laden's list. However, the shock for Japan and countries such as the Netherlands is particularly profound. For Australia, Spain and Britain this is not the first time. Nevertheless, the message is still a disturbing one.
What makes this latest threat interesting is the fact that the countries targeted have been limited to those cooperating with the U.S. in Iraq. Osama bin Laden seems to have forgotten the Afghan theatre of operations and has not bothered to name countries such as Turkey, India, Germany or France and many others that are or recently have participated in the multinational force based in Kabul. Osama has placed all emphasis on Iraq.
President Bush, who leads the coalition in Iraq, highlighted bin Laden's latest tape as evidence of the fact that the war on terror continues and that all "free nations" are still in danger. Stringent security measures taking place at the ongoing APEC summit in Bangkok, which have essentially barred Thais from leaving their homes, demonstrate that governments in the Asia-Pacific are afraid and are not willing to take any risks. While Japanese may be feeling this potential danger more than ever not all countries are. For instance, France's alert level has just been lowered to yellow, the lowest on a four-stage threat scale. This downgrading comes despite France's active role in counter terrorism activities such as its intensive collaboration with the CIA and MI6 to hunt down Osama bin Laden. Which questions, once again, the wisdom of prime minister Koizumi's willingness to risk the lives of those who will be sent to Iraq and the safety of his people at large in order to go the extra mile to help the United States in Iraq.