- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Osama bin Laden in a new audiotape urges his al Qaeda followers to carry out suicide attacks on Western targets and to join Iraq in resisting a U.S. invasion.
Bin Laden, the United States' most wanted fugitive, pointed to his survival as a model for fighting the Americans, saying coalition bombs nearly killed him in Afghanistan in 2001.
The tape, his first since Nov. 12, surfaced yesterday as the United States is on high alert for a terrorist attack. Intelligence agencies are picking up increasing signs that al Qaeda cells plan mass-casualty attacks on targets in the United States, Europe and the Persian Gulf, where more than 100,000 American troops are assembled for a likely invasion of Iraq.
"This war of the infidels that the U.S. is leading with its allies … we are with you and we will fight in the name of God," bin Laden says, according to a CNN translation of the 16-minute tape played on the Arab-language Al Jazeera satellite TV station in Qatar.
"We are following very carefully the preparation of the crusaders to invade the Iraqi land and take the wealth of the Muslims and install a regime that has Tel Aviv and Washington on its head to run you, in preparation for the establishment of greater Israel, God forbid."
A U.S. official said intelligence analysts believe the voice on the tape is of bin Laden, although it still must undergo computer analysis.
CIA Director George J. Tenet and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told a Senate committee yesterday that several hundred al Qaeda terrorists are now in the United States training for attacks. Other extremists operating from overseas bases, including Baghdad, plan similar strikes here and on the Arabian Peninsula, the two told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
In dire warnings, the two men said al Qaeda remained a significant threat to this country based on intelligence data described as "the most specific we have seen."
Mr. Tenet said any attack could coincide with the ending this week of the Muslim hajj in Saudi Arabia with U.S. interests on the Arabian Peninsula at the greatest risk. He said terrorists' communications pointed to plots that could include the use of radiological, biological and chemical weapons.
Underscoring their warning, Al Jazeera chose the same day to release the new bin Laden communication full of threats against the West and Israel.
"We stress the importance of martyrdom operations against the enemy, these attacks that have scared Americans and Israelis like never before," the tape says.
U.S. officials are wondering whether the tape's release is timed as a "go signal" for al Qaeda operatives to execute bloody assaults, similar to their September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
In a blunt warning to moderate Arab states supporting the U.S. troop buildup in the Gulf, the al Qaeda leader says, "Anyone who helps America, from the Iraqi hypocrites or Arab rulers … whoever fights with them or offers them bases or administrative assistance, or any kind of support or help, even if only with words, to kill Muslims in Iraq, should know that he is an apostate."
Qatar, where the government permits Al Jazeera broadcasts, is a major U.S. ally in the Gulf, and thus would be a bin Laden target. Gen. Tommy Franks, chief of U.S. Central Command, would direct an invasion of Iraq from a command post at a huge American air base in Qatar.
The Bush administration, which is partly justifying an invasion by citing Baghdad's ties to al Qaeda, immediately said the audiotape was further evidence of collusion.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the Senate Budget Committee that the bin Laden statement shows "where once again he speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq."
For the first time, bin Laden talks publicly about his experiences during the U.S. aerial attack on Afghanistan in 2001. The combined air and ground assault led to the fall of the hard-line Taliban regime and the emergence of a U.S.-backed democratic government in Kabul.
Bin Laden, who the United States believes is hiding in eastern Afghanistan or Pakistan, was living near the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar when the bombing began in October 2001. The United States believes he traveled north along the Pakistani border, making a last stand in the rugged mountain terrain of Tora Bora.
In December 2001, U.S. special-operations troops and anti-Taliban Afghans closed in, and aircraft incessantly bombed caves and bunkers. Bin Laden somehow escaped through one of the many trails leading out of Tora Bora.
Eleven months later, on Nov. 12, Al Jazeera played the first bin Laden audiotape since the action in Tora Bora. U.S. intelligence officials have verified the tape's authenticity and said that it proved bin Laden had survived the war and an intensive CIA-FBI manhunt.
This is how bin Laden described the Afghan bombing, according to a translation posted on the Fox News Network Web site:
"I am going to mention previous battles the trenches were long, and we were hit with heavy bombardment in October 2001. But on the 13th of Ramadan, we experienced heavy shelling because the American leadership wanted to exterminate us. They were killing us every minute. The Air Force was flying overhead, and with all this shelling, we were able to defend this small piece of land. …
"We were hit continuously with modern bombs. We were able to hold our position, and we kept repulsing them. They were going back carrying their dead.
"The Americans were unable to take over our position. They were unable to take that position from our small group of mujahideen fighting in temperatures below 10 degrees. We lost many people, but they were accepted by God as martyrs. In that battle, a small number of warriors were unbeatable."
In his Senate testimony, Mr. Tenet said the volume of messages being sent to and from terrorism suspects was the highest since September 11. He said the messages confirm that al Qaeda remains "dedicated to striking the U.S. homeland."
Mr. Mueller said the FBI has identified a "widespread militant Islamic presence" in this country, several hundred of whom are believed to be linked to al Qaeda.
"The focus of their activities centers primarily on fund raising, recruitment and training. Their support structure, however, is sufficiently well-developed that one or more groups could be ramped up by al Qaeda to carry out operations in the U.S. homeland," he said.
In addition to the threat from radiological, biological and chemical weapons, Mr. Mueller said the FBI also was concerned about multiple small-scale attacks against soft targets such as banks, shopping malls, supermarkets, apartment buildings, schools, churches, and places of recreation and entertainment.

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