CIA: Bin Laden voice probably authentic
( 2003-09-13 09:58) (Agencies)
The CIA said Friday the purported voice of Osama bin Laden on the newly aired al-Qaida videotape probably is an authentic recording of the terrorist leader, but it is impossible to determine when the tape was made.
Agency officials cautioned their analysis was not certain given the poor quality of the recording. They are more certain that another section of the audio voiceovers that accompany the tape contains the voice of Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden's chief surviving deputy.
Bin Laden's message does not refer to recent events, except to list five of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Al-Zawahri, meanwhile, speaks of the U.S. invasion of Iraq suggesting he was recorded since the war started in March.
The CIA also believes the two sections of the audio overlay were recorded separately, which is curious given the U.S. intelligence community's belief they are probably hiding together in the mountainous region along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is also difficult to draw conclusions from the underlying video, which shows bin Laden and al-Zawahri in Afghan garb hiking along a rocky mountainside. Both look healthy, contrary to persistent rumors that say al-Zawahri was wounded and bin Laden was sick, hurt or both.
Some officials suggested the video could be years old, noting bin Laden looked a little less gray than in some other recent appearances. Al-Jazeera, when it aired the videotape Wednesday, said it was recorded in the spring but offered no proof.
U.S. intelligence analysts believe the new tape was primarily intended as an al-Qaida propaganda and recruiting tool, timed to make a media splash alongside the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The general feeling in the government is that what they're doing is trying to pretend they're functioning well, leave the impression that people should give them money, ... that they're a viable organization, and that they should get recruits, and just generally give encouragement to their people," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said this week.
Officials have noted that some tape releases have been preludes to attacks. On Thursday, the State Department distributed a new warning noting that intelligence pointed to possible attacks in Europe or Asia.
Former CIA counterterrorism chief Vince Cannistraro said the new message could mean al-Zawahri could be taking on a greater role in al-Qaida.
"Zawahri talks all the contemporary stuff," he said. It raises the question, Cannistraro said, "Who's calling the shots now?"
Bin Laden has not appeared in a video that could be dated definitively since December 2001. Last November, an audiotape of him was aired on al-Jazeera in which he referred to an attack in the previous month. That message is regarded as the last definite evidence bin Laden was alive.
On Friday, al-Jazeera aired another apparent al-Qaida video, this one of Sept. 11 hijacker Saeed Alghamdi. A voice, purportedly of Osama bin Laden, praises Alghamdi, who authorities consider one of the foot soldier hijackers who did not play a leadership role in the Sept. 11 plot.
Alghamdi, a Saudi, was 21 when he helped hijack United Airlines Flight 93. He was not believed to be a pilot. The hijackers apparently crashed the plane into a Pennsylvania field after some passengers fought back against them.
The purported bin Laden voice calls Alghamdi a lion who "knew no fear as long as he was serving God."
Most of the tape consists of Alghamdi recording his last testimony. Al-Jazeera said the recording was made on Dec. 23, 2000, nearly nine months before the attacks.
The editor on duty Friday in Al-Jazeera's newsroom in Doha, Qatar, said the channel received the tape recently, and it came separately to the bin Laden-al-Zawahri tape.
Intelligence officials said they were reviewing the tape, but it appeared to be little more than propaganda. They said it appeared to have no intelligence value.
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