- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 (UPI) — The new audiotape believed to be from Osama bin Laden seeks to widen the gap between the Western and Islamic worlds by emphasizing America's differences with Muslims.

It seems to be the same tape, which was released last week by the Arab al-Jazeera television, and has now been posted on various Muslim Web sites.

Since Islamic news outlets like Al-Ansaar and Waaqiah put the tape on their sites, several newspapers in the Middle East also have published key aspects of this 53-minute tirade, giving the al Qaida leader an opportunity to spread his hate message.

Apparently, bin Laden and his lieutenants who prepared the tape were also aware of the immense propaganda value of such a broadcast. They carefully crafted their message, seeking to exploit sensitive issues bothering the Islamic world.

Perhaps that's why throughout the message the voice identified as bin Laden's keeps referring to a possible U.S. military action against Iraq, an issue that is debated in every Muslim household from North America to the Far East.

Aware that many in the Islamic world do not see this issue as simply that of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, bin Laden presents it as he thinks the Muslim masses want to see it: a conflict between Islam and the West.

The tape claims that Washington is plotting to carve up Muslim countries in the Middle East to benefit Israel, a theme widely discussed among the Muslims.

Bin Laden also presents the U.S. president as "an enemy of Islam" rather than a man wanting to save the world from the possible consequences of the Iraqi weapons.

Bin Laden warns that "once Iraq is subdued," America will go for other Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa. In saying this, he is strengthening the conspiracy theories now being discussed in the Islamic world.

These theories are routinely discussed among Muslims after family dinners and community gatherings. Instead of questioning the validity of such theories, most Muslims try to guess which country would be the next after Iraq. Many agree on Iran as the next target, to be followed by Syria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

While referring to these theories, bin Laden keeps repeating his old mantra, the "need for jihad against the infidels (the West) and their allies in the Islamic world."

But even this call for jihad is justified as the only means to prevent the United States from changing the regional map in the Middle East to benefit Israel.

In the tape, bin Laden quotes several Koranic verses to justify his call for jihad.

"It is clear that the preparations to attack Iraq are part of a series of attacks prepared for nations of the region including Syria, Iran, Egypt and Sudan," the voice said.

"The aim of the Crusaders' campaign is to prepare the atmosphere for the establishment of the so-called greater Israel state, which includes great parts of Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and large portions of (Saudi Arabia)," it said.

The message denounces President George W. Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair as "crusaders trying to destroy the Islamic nation."

Al-Ansaar released some quotes from the tape it said it bought from a source. Both Al-Ansaar and Al-Hayat said they were unable to verify whether the voice was that of bin Laden or a pretender.

While urging others to fight, bin Laden also offers to die as "a martyr." The tape, however, fails to mention that the al Qaida boss had several opportunities to "embrace martyrdom" in Afghanistan but instead he chose to save his life.

"In this final year I hurl myself and my steed with my soul at the enemy. Indeed on my demise I will become a martyr," he declares.

"I pray my demise isn't on a coffin bearing green mantles. I wish my demise to be in the eagle's belly," he adds.

Al-Ansaar interpreted the reference to an eagle as bin Laden expressing his desire to die while fighting the American eagle.

The message appears to be the same as that released by a U.K.-based Islamic Web site, Waaqiah, on Friday.

The new recording could be found on the Islamist "Jihad Forum" Web site at arabforum.net, and was timed to coincide with the three-day Eid al-Adha festival, which ended on Thursday.

Last week, U.S. intelligence experts said technical analysis of the tape aired on al-Jazeera showed "almost certainly" that it came from bin Laden. It appears to be the same tape as the one now being posted on Muslim Web sites.

The 16-minute message, broadcast on al-Jazeera on Tuesday, called for suicide attacks against the United States and resistance to any attack on Iraq.

Bin Laden also urges his followers not be scared of America's power as "American troops and its wealth cannot match the strength wealth of the Almighty," he says.

The tape also praised the 1998 attack on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and instead urges the Muslims to be ready for more fighting.

He calls Bush "a stupid leader" who, according to the al Qaida fugitive, was "hiding" from the Muslims because he knew he had committed "injustice to the people of Palestine and Iraq."

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