Friday, October 29, 2004

Osama bin Laden in a newly released video just four days before the U.S. presidential election attacked President Bush and threatened more September 11-style attacks if U.S. policy does not change.

At times seeming to taunt Mr. Bush, the al Qaeda mastermind addressed American voters directly, saying, “Despite entering the fourth year after September 11, Bush is still deceiving you and hiding the truth from you, and therefore the reasons are still there to repeat what happened.

“Just as you waste our security, we will waste your security,” said bin Laden, speaking in Arabic in the 18-minute video given to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network. Only a portion of the tape was made public last night.

President Bush, who was notified about the tape yesterday morning in telephone call from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice while aboard Air Force One, did not comment on it until 6 p.m. during a campaign stop in Toledo, Ohio.

“Earlier today I was informed of the tape that is now being analyzed by America’s intelligence community,” the president said on the Toledo Airport tarmac. “Let me make this very clear: Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country. I’m sure Senator Kerry agrees with this.

“I also want to say to the American people that we’re at war with these terrorists and I am confident that we will prevail.”

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry also said the country was united in rejecting any deal with terrorists such as bin Laden.

“Let me make it crystal clear, as Americans we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden and the terrorists,” Mr. Kerry said.

But Mr. Kerry also used the video to criticize what he said was the administration’s failure to capture the al Qaeda leader despite having cornered him during the Afghan war, a charge he has repeatedly raised on the campaign trail.

U.S. officials said last night they were not raising the nation’s terrorist-threat levels in response to the video, because bin Laden had made no specific threats. Officials said they believe the tape, the first showing bin Laden in more than a year, is authentic and they are trying to determine whether its release now may be a signal of an impending attack.

“There is no change in [the alert level] at this time but it’s something we analyze all the time,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.”We are on a heightened state of awareness already.”

Washington, New York City and northern New Jersey are already on orange alert, the second-highest level. The rest of the country is on a lower-level alert.

Although the message clearly appeared timed to affect Tuesday’s general election, bin Laden did not explicitly state a position on the candidates. While criticizing Mr. Bush’s Middle East policies, his remarks appeared geared to explaining to Americans why September 11 happened and how to head off future attacks.

“Oh American people, my talk to you is about the best way to avoid another Manhattan,” he said.

“Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda,” he added later in the video. “Your security is in your own hands. Each state which does not harm our security has naturally guaranteed its own security.”

He rejected Mr. Bush’s argument that al Qaeda has attacked the United States because its followers “hate freedom.”

“We fought you because we are free and do not accept injustice,” he said. “We want to restore freedom to our nation.”

Speaking steadily and occasionally gesturing with his right hand, bin Laden appeared behind a small table or desk in front of a plain brown background. He wore a white head covering and white tunic covered by a brown cloak and appeared to be in relatively good health.

The emergence of the tape could prove a double-edged sword for the candidates.

Mr. Bush has consistently scored better than Mr. Kerry in polls asking which candidate can more effectively fight the global war on terror. But Mr. Kerry has made the failure to capture bin Laden a centerpiece of his argument that Mr. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq was a diversion from the real threat posed by al Qaeda.

Richard Holbrooke, a top foreign policy adviser to Mr. Kerry, said bin Laden was “making a big mistake” if he thought his threats could influence the U.S. election.

But, he added in an interview on CNN, “the tape shows [bin Laden] is still out there. We should have captured him and we haven’t.”

Mr. Bush strongly rejects Mr. Kerry’s charge that bin Laden was allowed to escape during the 2001-2002 fighting in Tora Bora, as does retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who commanded both the Afghan and Iraqi campaigns.

A State Department spokesman said on background yesterday that U.S. officials had asked the government of Qatar, which finances Al Jazeera, to block the broadcast of bin Laden’s address.

“We received a copy of the tape before it was aired,” the State Department official told the Reuters news agency.”…We don’t think you should be providing a platform for mass murderers to incite terrorists.”

Bin Laden in the video for the first time took responsibility for planning and carrying out the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, and ridiculed Mr. Bush for what he said was his slow response to the news of the first attack.

The Saudi-born terrorist said he first conceived of the attack during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which included bombing runs on office towers in Beirut.

“It sparked my mind that the tyrant should be punished in the same way and that we should destroy towers in America, so that it tastes what we taste and would be deterred from killing our children and women,” he said.

Bin Laden referred to a scene celebrated in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the anti-Bush documentary by leftist filmmaker Michael Moore. Mr. Bush had been listening to a girl reading “My Pet Goat” at a Florida elementary school when aides informed him of the first World Trade Center strike.

“It never occurred to us that the commander in chief of the American armed forces would leave 50,000 of his citizens in the two towers to face these horrors alone,” he said.

“It appeared to [Mr. Bush] that a little girl’s talk about her goat and its butting were more important than the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers,” bin Laden said.

The al Qaeda leader said Mr. Bush’s slow reaction gave the September 11 hijackers an extra 20 minutes to carry out their missions, but Mr. Bush only stayed in the reading class for about seven minutes.

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