Signed and Delivered

Osama Bin Laden appears to be reasserting his influence among the Afghan and Pakistani tribal leaders upon whom he's depending for survival. Since December, the Qaeda chief has personally penned at least five brief letters, written in Arabic on white stationery, to the region's militant commanders. For the Taliban's Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, the latest correspondence is the second he's received this year from the "Sheik," as bin Laden is known among jihadis. The first was a letter of condolence after the death of Dadullah's notoriously brutal elder brother, a senior Taliban figure who was killed by Coalition forces in May 2007. An Afghan Taliban official said Mansoor was thrilled to receive the notes. "For the first time the Sheik is … reaching out to individual fighters rather than just broadcasting an audio or videotaped message," says the official, who requested anonymity for security reasons. "It's like a reward for a job well done."

According to the Taliban source, bin Laden's letter-writing campaign was inspired by ramped-up military activities on both sides of the rugged border. "He sees the tide turning in his favor." Bin Laden's main point, said the Taliban official, who has seen one of the notes, is that he is "satisfied with the effort and progress of the resistance against Jews and Christians." The holy war against infidels, bin Laden added, is not his personal fight but that of all Muslims. "Jews and Christians," he wrote, "have a long history of opposing any Islamic government that is trying to establish a truly Islamic state based on Sharia law."

The revelation about the letters surfaced as authorities in the U.S. and Europe are investigating possible connections between a suspected terror cell in Spain and militants in the Pakistani border areas where bin Laden is believed to be hiding. Authorities in Barcelona detained 10 men on suspicion that they were planning suicide bombings of public-transport facilities. A U.S. counterterrorism official, who requested anonymity when discussing an ongoing investigation, said several governments were looking for evidence of links between the accused Barcelona plotters and bin Laden or other Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. The U.S. official, and a source close to British counterterrorism agencies, said that investigators were also examining whether the Barcelona suspects were part of a wider plot to launch attacks elsewhere around Europe. The Spanish arrests occurred as Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a reviled figure among Al Qaeda and the Taliban, was about to begin a European trip. But investigators have not yet linked the plot to Musharraf's travels.

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