- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Audiotapes purported to be from Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenant aired on Arabic TV stations yesterday, one taunting President Bush and threatening more attacks on the United States, the second criticizing France’s decision to ban Islamic head scarves in schools.

Portions of separate audiotapes attributed to Ayman al-Zawahiri were broadcast a few hours apart on Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera, competing pan-Arab satellite channels based in the Persian Gulf. Officials at both stations said they had aired only excerpts judged newsworthy.

In Al Jazeera’s tape, the voice believed to be al-Zawahiri’s challenged Mr. Bush’s claim to have liberated Iraq and indicated al Qaeda is still running operations from Afghanistan.

“We remind Bush that situation is not stable in Afghanistan, or else how do we wage, with God’s support and might, our attacks on your troops and agents. … How do we send our messages that challenge you and reveal your lies,” the taped voice said.

“We remind Bush that he didn’t destroy two-thirds of al Qaeda. On the contrary, thanks be to God, al Qaeda is still in the holy war battleground raising the banner of Islam in the face of the Zionist-Crusader campaign against the Islamic community,” it added.

In his State of the Union address in January, Mr. Bush said “nearly two-thirds” of al Qaeda’s known leaders had been captured or killed.

“Bush, fortify your targets, tighten your defense, intensify your security measures,” the voice warned, “because the fighting Islamic community — which sent you New York and Washington battalions — has decided to send you one battalion after the other, carrying death and seeking heaven.”

Both stations said they had received the material yesterday.

The audiotape aired by Dubai-based Al Arabiya also criticized France’s decision to ban religious symbols in public buildings, including head scarves worn by Muslim women.

The voice singled out Egypt’s foremost religious leader, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the grand sheik of al-Azhar, calling his support of the French decision “a scandal.” Sheik Tantawi made his first remark defending the French ban on Dec. 30, so the tape would have been made sometime after that.

Dia’a Rashwan, an expert on radical Islam at Egypt’s Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said the tapes appeared to be a response to recent reports that U.S. forces are closing in on Osama bin Laden and his aide.

Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian-born physician, is thought to be in hiding along with Osama bin Laden in the mountains somewhere along the rugged border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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