- The Washington Times - Monday, November 8, 2004

U.S. intelligence is investigating whether the voice of a masked English-speaking jihadist who appeared on a videotape broadcast last month matches that of a narrator in an al Qaeda tape released two years ago.

If confirmed, the voice match would authenticate the tape, obtained Oct. 22 in Pakistan by ABC News, in which the speaker, identified as Azzam al-Amriki or “Azzam the American,” warns that the next attack on the United States “will make you forget all about September 11.”

The 75-minute video — overshadowed by the broadcast the next day of a video of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — takes the form of an interview with Azzam, whose English is fluent but accented. Analysts have suggested that Azzam learned the language while growing up but that it is not his native tongue.

“Azzam is a possible voice match for one of the narrators on the English-language version of ‘The 19 Martyrs,’” a videotape about the September 11, 2001, suicide hijackers released by al Qaeda in September 2002, counterterrorism analyst Ben Venzke said.

“We are working the issue,” added a U.S. intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The English-language version of “The 19 Martyrs” was produced, like the Arabic original, by the Sahab Institute, which Mr. Venzke described as al Qaeda’s media production wing. The Azzam tape also bears the Sahab logo, but U.S. officials have been reluctant to comment on its authenticity.

The English version closely tracks the Arabic original, offering subtitles to the narration and replacing Arabic graphics with English ones, except in one place.

“It’s strange,” said Mr. Venzke. “There’s this one section about four minutes long where it’s almost like they lost or damaged the original soundtrack.” The new soundtrack of that section features an English-language narration by someone whose voice “sounds very much like Azzam’s,” he said.

Mr. Venzke, who consults for government and law-enforcement clients, has tracked the release of video and audio messages from al Qaeda and its leaders since the September 11 attacks. He said the ABC tape is unique.

Although al Qaeda tapes previously have featured some small snippets of English, this is the first to feature a full-length address in that language, he said. It is also the first to be delivered directly to a U.S. network.

“There remain important questions about why they did this in this way and at this time,” said Mr. Venzke. “It is obviously significant in some way that al Qaeda thought it important enough to invest the resources in producing this tape.”

“The fact that the tape is in English cannot be disregarded,” agreed Bruce Hoffman, a terror analyst at the Rand Corp.

“It’s directing the message in a particular way. It’s more unnerving. … You get the sense that they know us much better than we know them.”

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