- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

President Bush yesterday warned the nation that a purported new audiotape of Osama bin Laden is a signal that al Qaeda terrorists plan new attacks on America and its allies.

Intelligence agencies continued analyzing the voice on the tape to determine whether it is that of bin Laden. But the Bush administration said the nation's archenemy since September 11, whom some thought dead, appears to be alive and planning more mayhem after 11 months of silence.

The United States is picking up what it calls communication "chatter" worldwide about future attacks.

"Whoever put this tape out has put the world on notice yet again that we're at war and that we need to take these messages very seriously," Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House. "It should remind all Americans and remind our friends and allies that there is an active enemy that continues to hate, is willing to use murder as a way to achieve their goals."

U.S. officials and major European cities are bracing for new attacks in light of the tape's blatant calls for violence against a wide array of targets.

Bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network has a track record of mounting attacks after releasing threatening messages, either written or on audio- or videotapes.

The CIA and National Security Agency are analyzing a copy of the tape, first broadcast Tuesday on the Arab-language Al Jazeera television station bin Laden's favorite outlet to energize his terrorist followers and threaten the West.

A U.S. official said government translators and linguists familiar with bin Laden's voice believe the recording is that of the terrorist leader. A high-speed computer comparison of known bin Laden recordings and the new tape could not determine conclusively whether the voices were the same, the official added.

"The technical analysis comparing this tape with previous tapes known to be bin Laden are at this point inconclusive," said the official, who asked not to be named. "That's in part because the audio quality of this tape is not very good. So it's difficult to compare to previous higher quality tapes.

"Based on just the linguistic, translator and area experts, you have to say the vast preponderance of evidence says it's bin Laden," the official said. "But we're not at the 100 percent level yet, and we don't know if we will ever get there."

There was no evidence that the tape was made by an impersonator or that it was spliced from old bin Laden recordings, the official said. The Bush administration has operated all along on a presumption that bin Laden is alive, hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan, so the new tape will not dictate a change in tactics, the official said.

Since the 1990s, bin Laden's followers have carried out a series of bloody attacks on Americans, culminating in the September 11 attacks with hijacked airliners.

"If the conclusion ultimately is that it is bin Laden," FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said of the tape, "then the fact of the warning is something that we cannot dismiss but, to the contrary, should cause us to be on greater alert to determine all that we can from our sources as to the possibilities of future attacks and to be continuously vigilant."

"Indications are at this time that the tape is real," said Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Further analysis is needed to confirm the recording's authenticity, he said.

"One of his messages to the world is that he is alive and well," Mr. Shelby said in an interview. "A second message is he's telling us he's not going away: 'Get ready for more hits.'"

Mr. Shelby noted that al Qaeda followers in recent months blew up a nightclub in Bali, bombed a French oil tanker off Yemen and shot a U.S. Marine in Kuwait.

"I think they're going to attack again," he said.

Mr. Bush said bin Laden's survival would not mean his declared war on al Qaeda is failing.

"We're making great progress in the war on terror," said the president, who demanded bin Laden "dead or alive" immediately after September 11. "Slowly but surely we are dismantling the terrorist network. We're finding their sanctuaries. We'll chase these people down, one at a time. It doesn't matter how long it takes. We'll find them and bring them to justice."

The voice on the tape specifically threatens Germany, Britain, Italy, Canada, France and Australia. All are countries helping the United States fight al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Western leaders said they would not be cowed by the threats.

"I will state unequivocally that Canada and all Canadians remain fully committed to the fight against terror. Threats such as these merely strengthen our resolve," Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley told reporters in Lethbridge, Alberta.

Australia, which lost dozens of citizens in the al Qaeda-sponsored attack in Bali, Indonesia, also reaffirmed support for the war on terrorism.

"I am quite sure that I speak for all Australians in saying that we will not be intimidated in relation to the policies we pursue by threats from terrorists," Prime Minister John Howard told Parliament.

The voice on the tape says, "We had warned Australia about its participation in Afghanistan. It ignored the warning until it woke up to the sound of explosions in Bali."

It is not clear why bin Laden may have surfaced 11 months after his last known contemporaneous video in early December. In that tape, bin Laden appeared grayer and emotionally stressed. He did not move his left arm during his entire 35-minute diatribe.

Some government analysts believed bin Laden was wounded in the relentless U.S. bombing of known al Qaeda hide-outs in eastern Afghanistan. He could have chosen now to speak because he has recovered from an illness or injury, because of an impending U.S. attack on Iraq, to boost morale among his faithful or to send a signal to his followers.

"We are at a moment of crisis in terms of Iraq, episodic visibility keeps his image alive, and the elements of al Qaeda are resurfacing in Afghanistan and can claim some indirect victories," said Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Beyond that, it is an exercise in mind reading."

Mr. Shelby said: "I don't know what's in his mind. There have been intervals between attacks masterminded by Osama bin Laden. He has been quiet, probably in hiding, on a number of occasions for a long period of time. This should not surprise anybody."

Since allied forces routed Afghanistan's ruling Taliban in December, al Qaeda followers have put out a string of bin Laden videos and audiotapes that, they claimed, were made contemporaneously. U.S. intelligence agencies in those cases determined the tapes were old.

But the new tape likely was an indication that bin Laden escaped Tora Bora, the mountainous region in eastern Afghanistan where al Qaeda stragglers made a last stand in late December. Bin Laden's voice was heard on a short-range radio directing his troops as American bombs fell and coalition special-operations troops combed the rugged terrain.

Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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