Video: New al-Qaida audiotapes

NBC News
updated 2/25/2004 4:12:00 PM ET 2004-02-25T21:12:00

Ayman al-Zawahri, the al-Qaida second-in-command whose voice was heard on audiotapes broadcast this week on Arab television, has made 10 similar public statements in the past six years, five of which were followed within three weeks by deadly terrorist attacks,  an NBC News analysis shows.

In two cases, the attacks came within three days of the broadcast of audiotapes or videotapes attributed to al-Zawahri. In both those instances, more than 200 people were killed.

U.S. intelligence officials, who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity, said they cannot definitively link al-Zawahri’s statements to the subsequent attacks. But they said that U.S. security officials take seriously any such pronouncements by Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man and study them for any possible “go signals” they might contain instructing al-Qaida operatives to carry out terrorist attacks.

Tapes taunt Bush, France, vow new attacks
In two tapes broadcast Monday, al-Zawahri taunted President Bush and challenged his State of the Union speech assertions that Iraq had been liberated and al-Qaida was on the run in Afghanistan. He also assailed France for a recent ban on the wearing of Muslim headscarves at public schools.

Video: CIA: al-Qaida no longer U.S.'s main threat

On one tape, the 52-year-old al-Zawahri said the terrorist network is “still in the holy war battleground” and vowed to carry out more terrorist attacks against the United States.

"Bush, fortify your targets, tighten your defense, intensify your security measures," the voice warned, "because the fighting Islamic community — which sent you New York and Washington battalions — has decided to send you one battalion after the other, carrying death and seeking heaven."

The tapes were broadcast a few hours apart by the Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya television networks, a simultaneous distribution of tapes from the fugitive al-Qaida leaders that U.S. intelligence sources said apparently is unprecedented.

Both networks indicated they had received them from sources who had previously delivered communications from al-Zawahri, an Egyptian physician and former leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad terror group.

Preliminary analysis of the tapes by the CIA also indicated that the speaker was al-Zawahri, a senior intelligence official told NBC News on Tuesday.

The NBC analysis of previous audiotapes, videotapes and written statement attributed to al-Zawahri shows that five of the 10 statements have been followed by significant al-Qaida attacks within three weeks.

Deadliest attacks followed statements
On two of those occasions, al-Zawahri’s statements were closely followed by the deadliest al-Qaida attacks since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which killed nearly 3,000 people:

  • On Aug. 6, 1998, al-Zawahri sent a statement to a London-based Arabic newspaper saying, "We are interested in briefly telling the Americans that their messages have been received and that the response, which we hope they will read carefully, is being readied."

The next day, suicide bombers detonated bombs at the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, killing more than 220 people.  Al-Qaida later claimed responsibility for the attacks.

  • On Oct. 9, 2002, an al-Zawahri tape threatened attacks on the United States, its economy and its allies. "I promise you that the Islamic youth are preparing for you what will fill your hearts with horror," al-Zawahri said.

Three days later, bombs destroyed a Bali nightclub, killing more than 200 people, mostly Westerners. Officials in the United States, Australia — which lost many of its citizens in the attack — and Indonesia later said al-Qaida had financed the attack.

The other attacks that closely followed a statement by al-Zawahri are:

  • A suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Aden harbor in Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000, which killed 17 U.S. sailors. The attack occurred three weeks after the release of a tape in which al-Zawahri, bin Laden and Rifai Taha of the Egyptian Islamic Group warned of imminent attacks.

At the end of the tape, al-Zawahri warned: "Enough of words. It is time to take action against the iniquitous and faithless force which has spread troops through Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia."

  • A suicide bombing of a bus carrying French naval experts in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 8, 2002, which killed 14 people. It took place three weeks after the release of a videotape in which al-Zawahri and bin Laden were seen speaking along a river in Afghanistan. Also seen on the tape were "martyr's wills" of previous suicide bombers.
  • A suicide bombing attack on German peacekeepers in Kabul, Afghanistan, on June 7, 2003, which killed four and wounded 31. The assault came two weeks after an audiotape attributed to al-Zawahri aired on various radio and television outlets in the Middle East. 

On the tape, al-Zawahri told Muslims to "burn the ground under their feet, as they should not enjoy your protection. … Expel those criminals out of your country." He concluded by promising, "The coming days will bring to you news that will heal your hearts."

Assassination bids followed criticism of Musharraf
In addition to those attacks, Zawahri was heard on a Sept. 29, 2003 audiotape calling Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf a "traitor" for helping U.S.-led forces topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, for considering a U.S. request to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq and for weighing diplomatic recognition of Israel.

"Muslims in Pakistan must unite and cooperate to topple this traitor and install a sincere leadership that would defend Islam and Muslims," al-Zawahri said on the tape.

On Dec. 14 and again on Dec. 25, assassins believed to have been affiliated with al-Qaida attempted to kill Musharraf as he drove in his motorcade, first in Rawalpindi and then in Islamabad.

One U.S. intelligence official also told NBC News that a call to arms from al-Zawahri that aired Dec.  19 was a key in the decision to raise the U.S. threat level assessment from “yellow” — or elevated — to “orange” — or high — two days later.

In that message, delivered to al-Jazeera television, al-Zawahri commemorated the second anniversary of the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan with a call for more attacks on Americans, including in the American "homeland."

U.S. officials said after returning the threat assessment level to “yellow” in January that it was unclear whether the heightened state of alert had averted a planned attack.

NBC News producer Robert Windrem is based in New York; Charlene Gubash is an NBC News producer in Cairo, Egypt.


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