The Washington Post
WASHINGTON - Osama bin Laden talks of his own demise and calls on others to carry on his holy war against the United States in a videotape message played Thursday over the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television station.
"Regardless if Osama is killed or survives," he says at one point during what appears to be a valedictory address , "the awakening has started, praised be God. This was the fruit of these operations."
Bin Laden appears much weaker and less vibrant than in his previous videotaped messages. Appearing pale and gaunt with a brown draped blanket as background, he is almost immobile during the 33-minute tape, which apparently was recorded earlier this month. Throughout the new videotape, according to one government analysis, "he gestures with his right hand, never once showing his left hand, arm or side."
As in a previous videotape released earlier this month by the Bush administration, bin Laden strongly suggests he had advanced knowledge of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But because the new tape was released on the Arab television network, it may carry greater weight in the Islamic world, where skepticism has abounded among average people over the Bush administration's accusation bin Laden and his terrorist network were behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Twice during the tape released Thursday, bin Laden says he "hoped" and then "beseeched" God "to accept as martyrs" the 19 men who carried out the attacks, according to a transcript prepared for the U.S. government.
Speaking in Arabic, Bin Laden also repeatedly calls for Islamic youth "to continue the jihad action, militarily and economically," against the United States, describing the fight against America as "the most dangerous, fiercest, and most savage Crusade war launched against Islam."
America's end, he says, however, "is not dependent on the survival of this slave to God." He says the Sept. 11 attacks caused the U.S. to decline. "The economic bleeding is continuing to date," he says, "but it requires further strikes. The young people should make an effort to look for the key pillars of the U.S. economy … (which) should be struck, God willing."
Bin Laden offered a closing poem dedicated to the Sept. 11 hijackers, most of whom he mentioned by name. The poem praised those who died fighting for Islam.
The tape, which was probably made in early December, provides no clue as to the present location of the al-Qaida leader, U.S. analysts said.
Bin Laden's original emphasis, almost 10 years ago, for taking up arms against the U.S. was primarily religious, based on American troops coming to holy places in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. His argument in the newest tape is almost entirely premised on what he terms Washington's support of Israel against the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia, his home country, was only mentioned in passing as a nation wrongly supporting the United States.
While earlier bin Laden tapes appeared to have been done with professional quality, the newest tape was recorded on an old home videocamera and arrived at the offices of Al-Jazeera within the past week in an unmarked box. It sat with dozens of other tapes for three days before it was opened and seen as coming from the al-Qaida leader, according to Ibrahim Helal, the station's editor-in- chief.
"It was a very old format, not professionally done, and we had to bring old equipment in just to review it," Helal said.
He said the top Al-Jazeera management spent three additional days reviewing the tape before deciding to broadcast it in full Thursday over its Arabic-language network that reaches throughout the Middle East.
U.S. government analysts noted bin Laden in the early part of the tape complains the U.S. attacked Afghanistan based on suspicion his al-Qaida members were involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. But later he praises the hijackers, showing he knew where they came from, how they trained and asserts "these young men have done a great deed."
Bin Laden also ties their actions to an interview he had given ABC television years ago. "I warned if (the U.S.) enters into a conflict" with Islam, bin Laden says, "America will forget the horrors of Vietnam."
The U.S. analysts also focused on bin Laden's debate within the tape with other Islamic scholars who have questioned his teaching killing is justified in the name of Islam. He calls their view of his actions as "parochial" and "neither grounded in (Islamic teachings) nor in reason."
Bin Laden's attempt to wrap his activities within the tenets of Islam was attacked by the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. He said bin Laden "is deluding himself if he believes that his criminal acts are justified by any religion or principle of humanity."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Thursday told reporters he had not watched the tape and only had seen bin Laden's face on television. As for the message given by the al-Qaida leader, the defense secretary said "using him as an oracle of all truth … clearly would be a mistake. He has lied repeatedly over and over again. He has hijacked a religion. He has hidden and cowered in caves and tunnels while sending people off to die … for reasons that he is propounding which are fundamentally inconsistent with the cause he purports to support."
U.S. intelligence analysts were taken by surprise by a brief segment of the tape initially broadcast on Wednesday. In the past, the U.S. had warning on the tapes prepared in Afghanistan by bin Laden and his associates because Al-Jazeera's Kabul office would transmit them by satellite feed to its Qatar headquarters, which would download the material for possible broadcast.
Those feed transmissions of Al-Jazeera could be intercepted by anyone with a satellite dish, Helal said. Other networks could download the material but not be able to use it without either paying or crediting Al-Jazeera. As of late Thursday, U.S. television networks had not played large portions of the videotape. Previously the Bush administration had raised concerns over U.S. networks showing extensive clips of bin Laden statements.
In the past, Al-Jazeera material could also be intercepted by governments, and government sources in Washington confirmed the U.S. had obtained copies of earlier bin Laden tapes by such means. Interception of transmission from Al-Jazeera in Kabul ended Nov. 12 when two U.S. bombs destroyed the network's offices and tower just before Northern Alliance forces entered the Afghan capital.