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Terrorist tapes may be boosting morale
( 2003-08-22 13:58) (Agencies)

His face was hidden behind the loose end of a black turban, his Kalashnikov lay by his side. He fidgeted with the paper on which his message was written.

The voice on a videotape of "your brother in faith, Abu Nasir Mahmood from inside Afghanistan," was strong and clear as it issued the latest in a series of threats and warnings purportedly from al-Qaeda or likeminded militants calling on the faithful to target "Christians and Jews."

Such messages, surfacing with increasing frequency, may be meant to reassure or instruct would-be recruits or "sleeper terrorist cells," says John Thompson of the non-profit Mackenzie Institute in Canada, which studies terrorism and political extremism.

"For someone sitting quietly in Paris or New York, these messages can rekindle his sense of identification, keep his ideological purity up to scratch," he said in a telephone interview.

In the newest video, acquired by The Associated Press from the deeply conservative tribal belt of Pakistan, Mahmood warned in Arabic of suicide attacks in Turkey, Yemen and Saudi Arabia and called on militants to "begin your operations in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan."

He didn't mention the United Nations, nor was there any warning of the deadly bombing of the U.N. offices in Baghdad on Tuesday that killed more than 20 people, including U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

He also called upon clerics in Pakistan to stop President Pervez Musharraf from making good on his offer to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq. He called Afghan President Hamid Karzai an "infidel," or unbeliever, and warned Karzai's supporters in Afghanistan that they would be attacked.

Paul Ingram, of the British American Security Information Council, said these messages also are vital communication links between terrorist operatives in the field and their leadership.

"The primary mechanism is internal communication," said Ingram, whose council is an independent research institute based in Britain and the United States.

"What the tapes are doing is saying, 'our struggle is continuing ... we are still strong because our strength lies in our ideology, our faith,'" he said.

They keep the terrorists in the field informed about their leadership and are "absolutely critical to the survival of al-Qaeda" and other terrorist organizations, Ingram said in a telephone interview.

The Mahmood videotape, as well as an audiotape message last weekend purportedly from Al-Qaeda member Abdur Rahman Al-Najdi, speak of the well-being of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden as well as Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

The U.S. State Department identified al-Najdi as a senior al-Qaeda propagandist and financier who has released previous messages to boost morale within al-Qaeda's ranks.

The same message of good health was also recently recorded on a disk, purportedly by Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden's top lieutenant.

It says Omar and bin Laden "are both in good health along with all of the sincere mujahedeen directing the battle against the American crusaders assault on Afghanistan."

Ingram said the increasing flow of new messages may also suggest that organizations like Al-Qaeda have turned the corner ¡ª from struggling to survive following the Sept. 11 attacks, to a reactivation of activities.

"These are signs that they are reasonably confident they can strike and this last bomb (at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad) is just one of several we will be seeing in the next few weeks, months," he said.

The al-Zawahri disk is a collage of computer-enhanced images __ the bombing of the USS Cole; the 2002 attempted assassination of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and George W. Bush visiting Israel before he became president.

Thompson said airing the tapes on TV stations such as Al-Jazeera, which is popular in the Arabic-speaking world, is not essential to getting the message out.

"One of the things they are doing is creating an alternative media, distributing it to their own supporters and networks. Releasing the tape to Al-Jazeera is just one way to advertise that it is out there. But they have always been able to get them to their supporters," Thompson said.

"Even if it weren't aired on television they would still be getting out to people. Tapes are cheap. It's universal technology, easily disguised as a number of things."

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