- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006

CAIRO (AP) — Osama bin Laden purportedly said in an audiotape yesterday that Zacarias Moussaoui — the only person convicted in the U.S. for the September 11 attacks — had nothing to do with the operation.

“He had no connection at all with September 11,” the speaker, claiming to be bin Laden, said in the tape posted on the Internet.

“I am the one in charge of the 19 brothers ,and I never assigned brother Zacarias to be with them in that mission,” he said, referring to the 19 September 11 hijackers.

Bin Laden said Moussaoui’s confession — that he helped plan the attacks — was “void,” calling it the result of “pressures exercised against him during 4 years” in U.S. prison.

Moussaoui, a 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan origin and admitted al Qaeda member, was sentenced to life in prison earlier this month after a jury ruled that he was responsible for at least one death on September 11.

Two counterterrorism officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said U.S. intelligence is aware of the bin Laden message. One of the officials said there is no reason to doubt its authenticity.

The official said the message is part of bin Laden’s continuing effort to demonstrate that he is a relevant extremist leader, who is knowledgeable of current events. The official said the message was made for propaganda purposes, and it does not contain any threats.

The audio message, which is less than five minutes long, was transmitted with a photo of bin Laden.

If authentic, it would be the third by bin Laden this year. In a tape aired on Arab television in March, he denounced the United States and Europe for cutting off funds to the Hamas-led Palestinian government, accusing them of leading a “Zionist” war on Islam, and urged followers to fight any peacekeeping force of the United Nations in Sudan.

In January, bin Laden said in an audiotape that al Qaeda was preparing new attacks in the United States but offered a truce. His lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahri later issued a video statement that Washington had refused the offer.

The January message was bin Laden’s first in more than a year, his longest period of silence since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

Al-Zawahri releases messages more frequently, appearing in videotapes, while bin Laden has not appeared in a video since October 2004.

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