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U.S. plays down bin Laden link to plane attempt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden's claim of responsibility for the December 25 bombing attempt on a U.S.-bound airplane was a grab for "reflected glory" and not a sign he was behind the plot, a U.S. official said on Monday.

In an audiotape aired on Al Jazeera television on Sunday, a man purporting to be the fugitive al Qaeda leader praised the Nigerian man accused of the Christmas Day bomb attempt and vowed more strikes at the United States.

Daniel Benjamin, the U.S. State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, said it was not likely that bin Laden was directly involved.

"He's doing what for bin Laden is a tried and true strategy, kind of associating himself with it and in that way sort of trying to get some of the reflected glory of the moment, if you can call it that," Benjamin told a news briefing.

"Bin Laden's been trying to put his fingerprints on just about everything that's happened for years, and in that regard I think we're kind of used to it."

The Yemen-based regional wing of al Qaeda has said it was behind the December 25 attempt to blow up the plane as it approached Detroit. The botched attack and subsequent threats in Yemen prompted Sanaa to declare an open war on the global militant group within its territory.

Yemen has launched a series of air strikes targeting al Qaeda leaders since then and has declared that some top leaders including Qasim al-Raymi and Ayed al-Shabwani have been killed. Al Qaeda denies this.

Defense and counterterrorism officials say Washington has been quietly supplying military equipment, intelligence and training to Yemen to destroy suspected al Qaeda hide-outs.

Benjamin said Saudi-born bin Laden -- whose ancestral homeland is Yemen -- and other top al Qaeda leaders were likely in touch with the Yemeni faction but not directly controlling it.

The relationship "is probably tighter than it is between al Qaeda senior leadership and any of the other affiliates. But that doesn't mean that there was command and control by any means," Benjamin said.

"We would characterize the role of the senior leadership in this context as being mostly about broad guidelines, general targeting priorities, things like that," he said.

(Reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by David Alexander and Mohammad Zargham)