- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

Lawmakers who have been briefed by U.S. intelligence officials warned yesterday that the threats against America made by Osama bin Laden in his latest audiotape should be taken very seriously and might be the precursor to a new attack by his al Qaeda network inside the United States.

“When Osama bin Laden says he’s going to attack the United States, and he’s focused on attacking us in the homeland, we should take him very, very seriously,” said Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, said he knew of “no specific threat that is tied to” bin Laden at the moment, but he added that he thought the message was “important.”

“If you take that line that he said, ‘We are preparing every minute and every minute, and when we’re ready, we’re going to attack you in your homeland,’ I think we have to take that very seriously,” Mr. Roberts told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

In the tape, portions of which were broadcast Thursday, bin Laden said that the reason there had been no attack in the United States since September 11, 2001, was “not because of [trouble] getting through your security.”

“Operations are being prepared, and you will see them when they are ready, God willing,” bin Laden said in the message, which the CIA confirmed was authentic and recorded since November.

Mr. Hoekstra said the message fit into a pattern.

“During the 1990s, [bin Laden] made these same kinds of threats, and he actually attacked the United States, and we ignored it and we paid the price on September 11. We need to make sure that we don’t make that same mistake again,” he said.

Some analysts said the release of the tape might portend an imminent attack, but others were skeptical.

“Warning your enemy before you attack him is very much a tradition in Islam,” former CIA bin Laden unit chief Michael Scheuer told Fox News last week.

Counterterrorism consultant Ben Venzke said on his Web site, intelcenter.com, that the tape “is part of a warning cycle for Americans and is closely matching the pattern seen in the run-up to the July 2005 London bombings.”

But author Peter Bergen, who has recently published a biography of the al Qaeda leader, said it was impossible to try to divine the timing or pattern of forthcoming attacks from the messages.

“Before September 11, bin Laden issued relatively few statements, and it is true that they often presaged attacks,” he said. “But since then, the number [of statements] has increased dramatically.

“There have been 19 tapes of bin Laden alone,” since the September 11 attacks, Mr. Bergen said, as well as 16 other messages from bin Laden deputy Ayman al-Zawahri. “That’s one every six weeks, almost. There haven’t been that many attacks.”

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