- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 (UPI) — The Arab Al Jazeera network aired Tuesday a purported message from al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in which he calls on Muslims to show solidarity against a possible U.S.-led military strike against Iraq.

"We have real fighting spirit," the voice said. "There is going to be a great battle." The speaker in the 16-minute tape said "Muslims should have a clear ideology," adding "By virtue of God, we will have victory."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said earlier Tuesday the transcript of the new tape is believed to bear the voice of bin Laden and shows the al Qaida leader is "in partnership with Iraq."

"I read the transcript of what bin Laden, or who we believe to be bin Laden, will be saying on Al Jazeera during the course of the day, and you will be seeing this as the day unfolds, where once again he speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq," Powell told the Senate Budget Committee Tuesday.

The new tape, if indeed the voice of bin Laden, would go a long way in proving the Bush administration's argument that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and bin Laden are now working in concert against the interests of the United States and its allies.

"I think when Secretary Powell went to New York and talked about the evidence we have of ties between Iraq and al Qaida, he did so on the basis of knowledge, on the basis of fact, and he would not have said it if he didn't mean it and if the United States government and others around the world didn't have cause to know it," White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday. "And so what the secretary has alluded to this morning gives further proof of the concerns that we have about Iraq and al Qaida linking up."

The White House did not offer information on exactly how the United States obtained knowledge of the tape, but said "… these tapes float around from time to time and there's conversation about them, information is provided or shared about them, and indeed Al Jazeera plays them."

Prior to the appearance of the alleged tape, the evidence Powell shared last week at the United Nations on the links between Iraq and al Qaida had largely been confined to aerial photographs of a poisons- and explosives-training camp near the Iran-Iraq border operated by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a senior operative in bin Laden's organization.

Powell said last week Zarqawi had sought and received medical treatment in Baghdad last spring.

Zarqawi is also believed to the mastermind behind the killing of Laurence Foley, a senior official from the U.S. Agency for International Development, in Jordan last October.

The tape would also be the first broadcast to the world from bin Laden since an audio tape of what U.S. officials believe to be his voice was released last fall.

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