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Bin Laden tape likely authentic, CIA says
( 2003-10-21 11:34) (Agencies)

Osama bin Laden, by referring to recent events in his latest taped message, showed he was alive in the not-too-distant past, U.S. officials said Monday. It was the strongest evidence in months that bin Laden retains command of the al-Qaida network.

Officials with the Central Intelligence Agency said they believed the audio recording of bin Laden, aired Saturday on Arabic al-Jazeera television, was probably authentic. They reached the conclusion after technical analysis in which experts compared the voice to known recordings of the terrorist leader.

Bin Laden made several references in the message that suggested it was recorded in the past several months. For example, he spoke of the government of former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who served from April until Sept. 6. Bin Laden called Abbas' government "a traitor and collaborator government" with the United States.

Although the language suggested the message was recorded before Abbas' resignation, CIA officials said they couldn't be certain of that.

In addition, bin Laden taunted the Bush administration for the United States' federal red ink: "This year's deficit reached a record number estimated at $450 billion," the al-Qaida leader said, according to a U.S. government translation of his message. "Therefore, we thank God."

The $450 billion estimate received prominent media attention starting in July. On Monday, the Bush administration lowered its figure to a still-record $374.2 billion.

Bin Laden also appeared to refer to the administration's recent efforts to persuade other countries to send troops to assist in the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq.

"I tell Bush that appealing for help from the world around you and begging for mercenary soldiers from everywhere, even from small countries, has shattered your pride, insulted your prestige and exposed your powerlessness after you used to defend the world in its entirety," bin Laden said in the tape.

Since late 2001, U.S. intelligence officials have said they believed bin Laden was in the mountainous region along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have not believed rumors of his death or severe illness and are still trying to find and capture him.

Previously, the most recent audio message from bin Laden aired on Sept. 10. It was regarded as a propaganda ploy by al-Qaida, aimed at capitalizing on the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

That message included video of bin Laden on a mountain hike, but it was unclear when either the video or accompanying audio voiceover had been recorded.

In that tape, bin Laden spoke of five of the Sept. 11 hijackers but did not refer specifically to any event more recent than the 2001 hijack attacks. Another audio message attached to the video contained the voice of Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden's top surviving lieutenant, who also appeared on the videotape. The video and both audio tapes apparently were recorded separately.

Al-Zawahri made many time-specific references in that tape, prompting some terrorism experts to wonder if it was a sign al-Zawahri had assumed operational control over the al-Qaida network.

Before that, The Associated Press obtained a bin Laden audio message on April 7 that referred to the outbreak of war in Iraq, so officials suspected it had been recently recorded. However, the references were so general that it possibly was recorded before the war, officials said at the time.

U.S. intelligence officials have noted that some tape releases have been preludes to attacks. In the April 7 tape, a speaker believed to be bin Laden exhorted Muslims to rise up against Saudi Arabia and foreshadowed suicide attacks against U.S. and British interests. Suicide bombers struck Western housing compounds in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on May 12.

Bin Laden has not appeared in a video that could be dated definitively since December 2001.

In November 2002, an audiotape of him was aired on al-Jazeera in which he referred to the killing of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan by operatives linked to al-Qaida.

U.S. officials apparently have had little luck in their efforts to track back to bin Laden and al-Zawahri the audiotapes' chain of possession.

In March, Pakistani authorities captured Abu Yassir al-Jaziri, a messenger for bin Laden, who was thought to have had information on bin Laden's whereabouts. It is unclear whether he had been involved in passing audiotapes to media outlets.

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