- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

The United States has determined that an audiotape of Osama bin Laden broadcast last week is "almost certainly" genuine and was made within the past several weeks, a U.S. intelligence official said yesterday.
The official finding means the most-wanted fugitive in the war on terrorism is alive.
He likely escaped an intensive coalition manhunt last year during fighting in Afghanistan and is hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan, U.S. officials believe. The intelligence official dismissed a British newspaper report that said coalition forces think bin Laden is in Yemen.
The official said the tape assessment was based on "comprehensive examination by very experienced linguists and translators as well as a highly sophisticated technology review of the tape by experts."
"Although it cannot be stated with 100 percent certainty, it is the intelligence community's assessment that the tape is genuine. We may never get any more certain than we are today," the official said. There is no evidence the tape was contrived or altered.
At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said of bin Laden's re-emergence: "It's a reminder that we are at war on terrorism. It's a reminder that we need to continue doing everything we can to go after these terrorist networks and their leaders wherever they are, and we will."
Some Democrats, including outgoing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, have seized on the tape as evidence President Bush is not making progress in the war.
"We continue to make good progress there. It will be a long, difficult war," Mr. McClellan said yesterday.
The White House views the latest bin Laden message as following an al Qaeda track record: Attacks often follow one of his diatribes. The FBI issued a warning last week that al Qaeda is planning "spectacular attacks," perhaps on a scale of the September 11 airline hijackings orchestrated by bin Laden.
The audiotape of bin Laden aired Nov. 12 on al Jazeera satellite television in Qatar. On it, the al Qaeda leader praised terrorist attacks in Bali, Kuwait and Yemen. A reference to those recent killings, plus a technical authentication of bin Laden's Arabic voice, led the CIA and U.S. National Security Agency to conclude the Saudi native remains at large.
Officials last week withheld a final determination pending a digital comparison of the new tape and previous known recordings of bin Laden's voice.
Bin Laden last surfaced in December as coalition forces and anti-Taliban Afghans attacked a concentration of al Qaeda fighters in the mountain range of Tora Bora. The United States believes it intercepted bin Laden's voice directing his troops on a short-range radio.
At about that time a videotape was released of a grayer and wan bin Laden. His left arm remained motionless throughout his 35-minute diatribe. Analysts believe the tape was current because bin Laden referred to recent events in Kandahar, Afghanistan, which fell to coalition forces on Dec. 7. Some intelligence analysts believe bin Laden was wounded during the U.S. bombings as he moved from the Kandahar area, north, into Tora Bora.
What has amazed some intelligence analysts is that since Tora Bora the United States did not pick up one confirmed piece of evidence that bin Laden was alive or dead. The vacuum shows that bin Laden and his close al Qaeda associates are capable of operating while avoiding detection by the United States' array of highly sophisticated sensors.
"He's trying hard to," said the intelligence official, when asked how bin Laden has evaded would-be captors, aided by an offer of a $25 million reward. "It's a very difficult region to find people and a good place to be if you are trying to hide."
On the poor-quality audiotape, which al Jazeera said was obtained by its reporter in Pakistan, bin Laden lauds recent terrorist attacks, include the seizure of a Moscow theater by Muslim Chechen rebels.
Yesterday, in an interview with reporters from Eastern Europe, President Bush defended Russian President Vladimir Putin's handling of the siege in which more than 120 hostages were killed by the gas the special forces used to knock out their captors.
"Any time anybody is willing to take innocent life for a so-called cause, they must be dealt with and he made some very tough decisions and people tried to blame Vladimir," Mr. Bush told the reporters, who hail from European countries he will visit this week. "They ought to blame the terrorists. They're the ones who caused the situation, not President Putin."
Mr. Bush compared the assault with the September 11 attacks on American landmarks, saying there was "a common thread."
"Eight hundred people were going to lose their lives. Clearly, these people were killers, just like the killers that came to America," he said.


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