- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating whether a statement from Osama bin Laden made public yesterday is authentic and can prove that the elusive al Qaeda terrorist leader is alive.
"Right now, we're in the dark," a U.S. intelligence official said of the letter. "We don't have any information on its authenticity."
The note, handwritten in Arabic, had bin Laden's signature and appeared on a Web site known to be an outlet for al Qaeda writing. It was broadcast later on Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite television network.
The note praised recent terrorist attacks in Yemen, where terrorists blew up a French oil tanker on Oct. 6, and in Kuwait, where terrorists fatall shot a U.S. Marine on Oct. 8. Al Qaeda is suspected of carrying out both strikes.
If confirmed as authentic, the note would bolster recent U.S. intelligence reports indicating that bin Laden is alive and hiding along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
The last time U.S. intelligence agencies had proof that the Saudi-born extremist was alive was in December, when he was overheard talking on a hand-held radio in the Tora Bora region of southeastern Afghanistan.
The agencies have obtained samples of bin Laden's handwriting and might be able to tell whether the note was written by him or was fabricated to make it appear as if he were alive.
Without the actual written message, it will be difficult to determine whether the note is a forgery, one official said.
"We congratulate the Muslim nation for the daring and heroic jihad [holy war] operations that our brave sons conducted in Yemen against the Christian oil tanker and in Kuwait against the American occupation and aggression forces," the statement said.
The letter did not claim direct responsibility by al Qaeda for the attacks but stated that the strikes coincided with the anniversary of the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan, which began Oct. 7 last year and ousted the ruling Taliban militia by December.
The letter warned that al Qaeda will continue to attack "until they take their hands off our Muslim nation and stop their aggression against us and their support to our enemies."
The disclosure of the letter follows earlier taped messages from bin Laden and his key deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahiri.
On Oct. 6, Al-Zawahiri threatened in a recorded message to conduct attacks against the United States, its economy and its allies.
U.S. intelligence agencies determined that the tape had been made within the past two months and that the voice was Al-Zawahiri's.
It also was a sign that Al-Zawahiri, considered the No. 2 leader in al Qaeda, had survived the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan.
The statement attributed to bin Laden also criticized U.S. plans to attack Iraq and said that America is seeking to steal "riches," including crude oil, from Arab nations.
"The priority in this war at this stage must be against the infidels, the Americans and the Jews who will not stop infringing upon us except through jihad," the statement said.
U.S. intelligence officials said al Qaeda appears to be engaged in stepped-up terrorist strikes after a period of relative quiet.
The new campaign is focused on using terrorist attacks to destabilize fragile U.S. and world economies.
Al Qaeda also is believed to be behind the terrorist bombing at a vacation resort in Bali, Indonesia, that killed 190 persons, including many young Westerners.
The Office of Naval Intelligence also issued a notice to U.S. merchant ships earlier this month warning that al Qaeda has targeted oil tankers in the Arabian Gulf and near the Horn of Africa.
The notice said the threat information was uncorroborated but should be "taken seriously."
"This reporting substantiates previous indications of al Qaeda intent to attack commercial shipping as a means of creating economic instability," the office stated.
The warning was made public before the bombing in Yemen of the French oil tanker Limburg, which suffered damage after a small boat packed with explosives blew up beside the ship near the port of Ash Shihr, about 350 miles up the coast from the port of Aden.
In October 2000, the destroyer USS Cole was bombed in Aden harbor by al Qaeda terrorists using a small boat packed with explosives that was detonated next to the ship as it sought to refuel. The blast killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured scores more.
The FBI last week issued a warning to law-enforcement officials throughout the United States, saying al Qaeda has threatened to attack "against U.S. economic interests."
The warning was based on bin Laden's audiotape, broadcast by Al Jazeera on Oct. 8, and similar threats made by Al-Zawahiri in his audiotape message.
The statements, when combined with information by al Qaeda prisoners, "strengthen previous assessments that al Qaeda continues to plan major attacks against U.S. interests," the FBI said.
"The statements suggest that an attack may have been approved, while the specific timing is left to operatives in the field," the bureau said.
A senior al Qaeda member in U.S. custody said the terrorist network would release a statement only "after approving a specific plan for an attack," according to the FBI. Al Qaeda is seeking to manipulate the worldwide Islamic extremist community to attack the United States "at home and abroad," the bureau said.

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