- Barack Obama - Egypt - Middle East - Osama bin Laden
AFP - Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden on Wednesday scorned Barack Obama's overture to the Islamic world and warned of decades of conflict, at the start of the US president's Middle East charm offensive.
He accused Obama of "antagonising Muslims" in the same way as his predecessor George W. Bush, in an audiotape aired on Qatar's Al-Jazeera news channel less than an hour after the president landed in Saudi Arabia.
"He has followed the steps of his predecessor in antagonising Muslims ... and laying the foundation for long wars," bin Laden said, referring to deadly clashes in Pakistan between the US-backed government and Islamist militants.
"Obama and his administration have sowed new seeds of hatred against America," said the Al-Qaeda leader whose network carried out the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
"Let the American people prepare to harvest the crops of what the leaders of the White House plant in the next years and decades."
In a swift reaction from Obama's Saudi hosts, a government spokesman in Riyadh said the new tape was a sign of the desperation of the fugitive Saudi-born terror mastermind.
"It's an act of desparation," information ministry official Nial al-Jubeir told AFP. "They are still making their statements while hiding in a cave."
Obama flew into Saudi Arabia before heading to Cairo on Thursday to give a much-anticipated speech to the world's 1.5 million Muslims after eight years of fraught relations under Bush.
Bin Laden's right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahiri earlier urged Egyptians to shun Obama, saying his trip was at the invitation of the "torturers of Egypt" and the "slaves of America."
"His bloody messages were received and are still being received by Muslims, and they will not be concealed by public relations campaigns or by farcical visits or elegant words," Zawahiri said in an Internet audio recording.
He described Obama as "that criminal who came seeking, with deception, to obtain what he failed to achieve on the ground after the mujahedeen ruined the project of the Crusader America in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia."
Arab newspapers, meanwhile, warned Obama to beware of lecturing Muslims on his landmark trip.
"Don't be biased towards Israel, don't interfere in countries' internal affairs and don't give lessons in democracy," advised a front-page editorial in Egypt's state-owned Al-Rose Al-Youssef.
"Within President Obama's team, there are those who advised him to address Muslims as partners," Ossama Saraya wrote in the state-owned Al-Ahram.
"But there are also those who asked him to make demands and put pressure on the Muslim world under the pretext of democratisation and respect for human rights. There's nothing more absurd than putting more pressure on the Arab-Muslim world."
Saudi Arabia's Okaz newspaper was welcoming, proclaiming: "King-Obama summit, key to global stability," read a headline in Saudi's Okaz daily.
But an editorial in the Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh urged the Islamic world not to put its expectations too high.
"The Islamic world should not think that Obama is coming to be an ally or a supporter... let's realise that he will speak as a moderate American who understands the sensitivity of the region, as well as its wars and suffering caused by the US Machiavellian policy over the past five decades."
In the United Arab Emirates, Vice President and Prime Minister Mohammad bin Rashed al-Maktoum warned Obama that the worsening economic situation would strengthen extremism in the Islamic world.
"Those young men, who are increasingly bored (due to growing unemployment), will be easy prey for those promoting extremism and hostility, mainly against the United States," he wrote in Al-Khaleej.