- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

CAIRO Newspapers in the Arab world yesterday played down an Osama bin Laden videotape that the United States hopes will convince people that the Saudi dissident instigated the September 11 attacks on the United States.
The bin Laden tape, released Thursday by the Bush administration, was broadcast simultaneously that evening in the Middle East by CNN and Al Jazeera satellite television. It showed bin Laden discussing the attacks with a visitor in Afghanistan, who congratulates him.
In yesterday's prayer sermons, a traditional indicator of national sentiment in the Middle East, mosque preachers did not speak of the tape. Instead, they focused on religion the day was the last Friday sabbath in the holy month of Ramadan.
At Cairo's Al Azhar mosque, many worshippers said they had not seen the tape. And those who had seen it said they could not make out the Arabic and that they either did not trust the English translation or did not understand it. Many Egyptians do not speak English.
"I heard the tape but it didn't explain anything to me. I don't see it as evidence," said Salah Abdel Moneim, a merchant. He theorized that America had released the tape to "hurt the image of Islam."
A linguist hired by the U.S. government to translate the tape prepared an Arabic transcript. But the Pentagon didn't release the Arabic transcript or a version of the tape with Arabic subtitles. Administration officials gave no explanation for the decision.
Mohammed Salah, an Egyptian specialist on militant Islamic movements who writes for the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, believes bin Laden left the tape for Americans to find in Afghanistan because he wanted the world to know of his role in September 11.
Bin Laden no longer has anything to lose by claiming responsibility, Mr. Salah said. "Bin Laden wanted to show America that he is steadfast following the war, not defeated and still strong."
While Western media gave huge coverage to the tape in which bin Laden outlines how the attack was planned and says he did not expect the World Trade Center towers to collapse the Arab press ran the story sparingly. Most papers yesterday were dominated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In Jordan, the English-language Jordan Times was the only paper to report the tape as a separate story and to publish some of bin Laden's remarks. Arabic papers in the kingdom mentioned the tape briefly in their stories on the war in Afghanistan.
In Lebanon, the respected daily, An-Nahar, did carry the full text of the tape, but it was the only newspaper to do so. Others ran brief articles on their inside pages.
In Qatar, Al-Sharq was one of only a few newspapers to comment on the tape in an editorial. Noting the tape's poor quality unclear sound and amateur camera work Al-Sharq said it was "unlikely to clarify the truth, but rather increase the fog."
"If the United States was confident of the 'proof' contained in the tape, then the tape should have first appeared in a court of law and not on the television screen," the paper said.
In Saudi Arabia, the home country of bin Laden and 15 of the 19 suspected September 11 hijackers, headlines highlighted bin Laden's comments that most of the hijackers did not know their mission until shortly before they boarded the planes. Bin Laden said that during their training, they knew only they would conduct a "martyrdom operation."
Saudi newspapers omitted the tape's references to several Saudi clerics. Bin Laden asked his visitor, from Saudi Arabia, about the reaction of Saudi clerics to September 11.
State-run Saudi television broadcast the bin Laden tape in full on Thursday, as did the official station in another Persian Gulf nation, the United Arab Emirates. Neither station provided analysis or commentary of the tape before or after its airing.
Egyptian local and satellite television stations also played the tape in its entirety. Parts of it appeared on Friday-morning shows, accompanied by comments from an analyst.

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