Bin Laden warns of attacks on the U.S.

Posted in Terrorism , United States | 20-Jan-06 | Author: Hassan Fattah| Source: International Herald Tribune

Osama bin Laden, pictured here in a video broadcast on Oct. 29, 2004 by Arab television station Al-Jazeera.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates Breaking more than a year's silence, Osama bin Laden warned Americans in an audiotape released on Thursday that Al Qaeda was planning more attacks on the United States, but he offered a "long truce" on undefined terms.

It was unclear when the recording, broadcast by the Arab satellite television station Al Jazeera, was made, but the Central Intelligence Agency verified its authenticity and said the station was probably right in saying that it dated from early December.

American officials said the release might have been timed to assure his followers that Mr. bin Laden was alive and well days after an American bombing of a house in a Pakistani village where senior Qaeda officials were said to have been killed.

In the tape, Mr. bin Laden addressed the American people directly, saying of his supporters, "Our situation is getting better while yours is getting worse."

"My message to you is about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how to end them," he began. "Bush said, 'It is better to fight them on their land than their fighting us on our land.' I can reply to these errors by saying that war in Iraq is raging with no letup, and operations in Afghanistan are escalating in our favor."

He said the lack of Qaeda attacks in the United States since Sept. 11 was not related to improved security, and he pointed to terrorist attacks in Europe as evidence that his fighters could penetrate all such barriers.

As to what attacks Americans can expect, he said, "The operations are under preparation and you will see them in your homes the minute they are through, with God's permission."

Vice President Dick Cheney, asked by Fox News about the tape, said it now seemed likely that Mr. bin Laden, whom some had believed dead, was alive. But, the vice president said, Mr. bin Laden has clearly had trouble getting his message out and added, "We don't negotiate with terrorists."

"I think you have to destroy them," he said. "It's the only way to deal with them."

Mr. bin Laden offered the American people a vague truce, saying "both sides can enjoy security and stability under this truce so we can build Iraq and Afghanistan." Later in the statement he quotes from a book which calls for an end to what he termed "American interference in the nations of the world."

The statement noted that American opinion polls had shown the nation's desire to withdraw its troops from Iraq and its feeling that it is better that Americans "don't fight Muslims on their lands and that they don't fight us on ours."

Regarding an American withdrawal, he said, "There is no shame in this solution which prevents the wasting of billions of dollars that have gone to those with influence and merchants of war in America who have supported Bush's election campaign."

Nearly all of the video and audiotapes attributed to Mr. bin Laden in the past have turned out to be authentic. His voice, this time, sounded somewhat more labored, lacking the energetic quality typical of earlier recordings. There was also a pronounced echo as if he had been inside a room, in contrast to previous recordings that seemed to have been made outdoors or in large spaces.

Like some of his other recordings, this one made reference to recent events, including in this case to a report in a British newspaper in November that President Bush wanted to bomb the headquarters of Al Jazeera in Qatar, a claim dismissed by both the American and British governments.

The bin Laden broadcast comes just days after the United States launched airstrikes on a Pakistani village aimed at Mr. bin Laden's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Mr. Zawahiri was not at the site, but two senior members of Al Qaeda and the son-in-law of Mr. Zawahiri were among those killed in the strikes in remote northeastern Pakistan, Pakistani officials said.

The attacks caused anger across Pakistan, particularly in the autonomous tribal regions, and led the government to condemn the intrusion.

Some analysts saw the message as a triumph for the leader of Al Qaeda. "The fact that he was able to record the message, deliver it and broadcast is in itself a victory for him," said Muhammad Salah, Cairo bureau chief for the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat and an expert on Islamist groups.

Mr. bin Laden typically chooses his timing and messages carefully to prove a point, Mr. Salah said. "He is playing on the American people's desire to get out of Iraq and the Islamic fundamentalist swamp," he said. "And he is telling Bush that 'I am winning and I am still there.' "

The White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, told reporters that President Bush had been told about the tape on Thursday morning after an appearance in Virginia. Mr. McClellan said American intelligence agencies were trying to determine whether the tape provided clues about Al Qaeda's operations.

"If there is any actionable intelligence, we will act on it," Mr. McClellan said.

"We are winning," he said. "Clearly Al Qaeda and the terrorists are on the run, and that is why it is important that we do not let up, and do not stop, until the job is done."

Mr. McClellan added: "We continue to act on all fronts to win the war on terrorism, and we will. The president is fully committed to do everything within his power to prevent attacks, and to defeat the terrorists. We are taking the fight to the enemy, we are working to advance freedom and democracy, to defeat their evil ideology."

Mr. bin Laden's message said his followers were not afraid of further American attacks because "a swimmer in the ocean does not fear the rain," but he promised the same treatment for Americans as they had given others.

"This says the man is still very much in action," said Riad Kahwaji, founder of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, a security research firm in Dubai. "He's saying the war is still on, and he's talking about ongoing plans for operations and strikes elsewhere. He's also mentioning recent events to give authenticity to the recording that it is recent and he is keeping up to date with developments."

Mr. bin Laden was last heard from in an audio recording in December 2004, in which he called for Iraqis to boycott the elections in January 2005. That broadcast prompted President Bush to take the unusual step of responding to the message, declaring that the call by Mr. bin Laden made the stakes in the Iraqi elections clear.

Abeer Allam contributed reporting from Cairo for this article, and Douglas Jehl from Washington.