- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

U.S. officials said yesterday they strongly suspect a newly released tape by terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden is authentic and provides the first hard proof in nearly a year that bin Laden is alive.
A preliminary U.S. government assessment indicates the voice is bin Laden's. "It sounds like his voice," said a U.S. official with access to intelligence reports, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
In the audiotaped recording, broadcast yesterday by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television network, a speaker said to be bin Laden praised a string of recent strikes on U.S. and Western targets, including events that occurred two weeks ago, and warned U.S. allies they would pay for supporting a military attack on Iraq.
If authentic, the tape would provide conclusive evidence that Saudi-born bin Laden had survived last year's U.S.-led strike against his base in Afghanistan and eluded an international effort to run him to ground.
"As you kill, so will you be killed, and as you bomb so will you likewise be bombed," the speaker warned in a message directed to the citizens of Britain, Canada, France, Australia and other U.S. allies in the war against terror.
Several written and taped messages purportedly made by bin Laden have been released in the past few months, but the last definitive sighting dates to videotapes he made in southern Afghanistan in November and December 2001.
The latest Al Jazeera tape refers to five events last month the bombing of an Indonesian nightclub frequented by Australian and Western tourists, the attack on a French oil tanker off Yemen, the shooting of a U.S. Marine during military exercises in Kuwait, the assassination of a senior American aid official in Jordan and the seizure of a Russian theater by Chechen militants earlier this month in which the attackers and more than 115 theatergoers lost their lives.
The attacks were "only a reaction in response to what [President] Bush, the pharaoh of the century, is doing by killing our sons in Iraq and what America's ally Israel is doing, bombarding houses with women and old people and children inside with American planes," said the broadcast message.
Despite the strong resemblance to past bin Laden recordings, U.S. officials said for the record yesterday they were not ready to state definitively that the new tape was genuine.
"We've seen these reports, and we will analyze the recording," National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters at the White House. "We don't know if it is him or not."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, asked about the tape after a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said, "I'm sure it will be analyzed to determine its authenticity."
The U.S. official with access to intelligence analysis said the U.S. government has been "operating on the premise that [bin Laden] is alive."
"If in fact he were dead, we think there would be indications to that effect, and we haven't seen that," the official said.
A recording made public last month that was also said to be bin Laden, in which he called for a strike against "U.S. economic interests," was confirmed by U.S. intelligence as being that of the al Qaeda leader, the U.S. official said.
"The conclusion was that, that was his voice, but the timing of when the recording was made is not clear," the official said.
The voice on the Al Jazeera tape does not explicitly claim that the global terrorist network al Qaeda carried out the recent string of terrorist strikes, but says the attacks were the expression of rising Arab and Muslim anger at U.S. policy on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian question.
The speaker warned U.S. allies: "What business do your governments have to ally themselves with the gang of criminality in the White House against Muslims? Don't your governments know that the White House gang is the biggest serial killers in this age?"
He went on, "For how long will fear, massacres, destruction, exile, orphanhood and widowhood be our lot, while security, stability and joy remain your domain alone?
"It is high time that equality be established to this effect," the tape continues, promising more terrorist operations against Western targets by young Muslims "committed before God to pursue [holy war]."
Al Jazeera, which has extensive contacts among radical Islamist groups, did not say how it had obtained the purported bin Laden tape.
Determining bin Laden's fate has been an issue of consuming interest to Western security officials since he disappeared from view shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Ailing and flushed from his redoubt in the mountains of Afghanistan, bin Laden has been thought by some to have died or to have been incapacitated in the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.
But Ronald Noble, secretary-general of the international police agency Interpol, told a French newspaper last week he was convinced bin Laden remained "well and truly alive."
"Osama bin Laden is alive, and on the ground the hunt for him goes on as it did on the very first day," Mr. Noble told Le Figaro.

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