U.S. officials strongly disputed reports Thursday that intelligence analysts had authenticated a videotape in which a man claiming to be an al-Qaida terrorist warns of devastating new attacks on the United States.
In the 75-minute tape, which was aired Thursday night by ABC News, a shrouded man claiming to be a U.S. member of al-Qaida promises attacks that will make U.S. streets “run red with blood.”
ABC said it obtained the tape Friday in Pakistan from a source known to have connections to al-Qaida and the Taliban. ABC’s Web site said it paid the source $500 in transportation fees. Since then, the network has been working with intelligence officials to understand the tape’s content and origins.
The existence of the tape was first reported Wednesday by Internet columnist Matt Drudge, who quoted unnamed “federal sources” as saying the CIA and the FBI had verified its authenticity. Drudge’s report led to denunciations of ABC News by conservative Internet columnists and webloggers, who accused the network of withholding the tape because of perceptions that it would aid President Bush in next week’s election.
However, ABC News itself said intelligence analysts had not been able to authenticate the tape, and a senior U.S. intelligence official, speaking to NBC News late Thursday on condition of anonymity, adamantly insisted that Drudge’s report was wrong. The tape appeared to have been shot several months ago and did not match any threat the intelligence community was aware of, the official said.
“We have not authenticated this tape. I repeat, we have not authenticated the tape,” the official said. “If anyone asks you if we have authenticated the tape, tell them we have not authenticated the tape.”
A spokesperson for U.S. officials analyzing the tape told NBC News that the tape looked like an al-Qaida production only because of its use of graphic devices similar to those in previous al-Qaida tapes, notably a banner attributing it to the Sahab Production Committee.
Pre-election attack widely speculated
The possibility of an al-Qaida attack in the days before next week’s presidential election has been widely speculated on, but U.S. intelligence officials said last week that they had no specific intelligence indicating there was a plot by al-Qaida to launch a strike designed to sway the voting.
The speaker on the tape, identifying himself as “Azzam the American,” praises the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, calls Osama bin Laden and his deputy his leaders, and says a new wave of attacks could come at any moment.
“Allah willing, the streets of America will run red with blood, matching drop for drop the blood of America’s victims,” the speaker says.
The speaker, who wore a headdress that covered his face except for his eyes, claims that the United States is his country of origin but does not say specifically where he lives. He speaks both Arabic and English with an international accent that an intelligence official told The Associated Press was hard to characterize.
“The video content is classic al-Qaida propaganda, in terms of anti-U.S. ideology and denunciation of the U.S.,” the official said.
The official agreed that the video appeared to have been made in the last several months, perhaps as recently as late summer, because of references to the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, and the Sept. 11 commission.
MSNBC.com’s Alex Johnson, NBC’s Pete Williams in Washington and Robert Windrem in New York, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.