updated 2/5/2006 8:38:22 PM ET 2006-02-06T01:38:22

Recent tapes from al-Qaida leaders may be part of an effort to show followers of the terrorist organization that they are still around, a U.S. intelligence official said Sunday.

“We’ve watched them with great interest, tried to analyze them,” said Gen. Michael Hayden, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. “I think, in one sense, there’s almost a proof of life aspect to them.”

In a video released Jan. 30 after an airstrike killed four al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan, No. 2 leader Ayman al-Zawahri threatened a new attack against the United States. Earlier in January, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden issued a similar threat in an audio statement, his first in more than a year, and offered a truce to the U.S.

“This is a tough and very cunning enemy, but we have had successes,” Hayden said. “In some ways, the al-Qaida central leadership may be on their back foot, and the rest of their organization may see that, may see reflections of that, and these tapes may be an attempt on their part to kind of re-establish authenticity with their followers.”

Hayden said officials believe bin Laden and al-Zawahri are in a tribal area on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Capturing them remains “a tough problem,” he said.

“They’re relying on just the realities in that part of the world of vast distances, small populations — distant from government centers in both countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he said.

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