A videotape posted on the Internet late Sunday, purportedly by al-Qaida, showed previously unseen footage of a smiling Osama bin Laden and other commanders in a mountain camp apparently planning the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
The documentary-like retrospective of the five years since the attacks was unusually long — 91 minutes, split into two segments — and sophisticated in its production quality compared to previous al-Qaida videos. The footage — with English subtitles — surfaced Sunday night, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the attacks, on a Web site that frequently airs messages from bin Laden’s terror network.
“Planning for Sept. 11 did not take place behind computer monitors or radar screens, nor inside military command and control centers, but was surrounded with divine protection in an atmosphere brimming with brotherliness ... and love for sacrificing life,” an unidentified narrator said.
The video released Sunday was stamped with the emblem of As-Sahab, al-Qaida’s media branch.
Hours later, As-Sahab said another new video containing a statement from al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri would be released shortly. CNN reported early Monday that the video appeared to have been recorded recently, and that al-Zawahiri refers to Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon and the capture of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah and militants in Gaza.
Never-before seen testimony
The video released Sunday was titled “Knowledge is For Acting Upon” and subtitled “The Manhattan Raid.”
It showed the al-Qaida leader meeting with colleagues in a mountain camp believed to be in Afghanistan, as well as video clips of Vice President Dick Cheney defending his old job at the oil company Halliburton, and President Bush at his inauguration. Other scenes show training at the camp, with masked militants doing martial arts kicks and practicing hiding and pulling out knives.
Excerpts of the footage aired on Al-Jazeera television on Thursday, and al-Qaida had said it would later release the full video on the Internet.
It included the last testament of two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Wail al-Shehri and Hamza al-Ghamdi, and showed bin Laden strolling in the camp, greeting followers.
“Among the devout group which responded to the order of Allah and order of his messenger were the heroes of Sept. 11, who wrote with the ink of their blood the greatest pages of modern history,” the narrator said, referring to the hijackers who flew planes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
Al-Shehri and al-Ghamdi were each shown speaking to the camera, their image superimposed over background pictures of the crumbling World Trade Center towers and the burning Pentagon, as well as a model of a passenger jet.
They both spoke of how Muslims must stand up to fight back against the West.
“If jihad now is not an obligation (on Muslims), when will it be?” said al-Shehri, pointing to attacks on Muslims in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Chechnya.
“If we are content with being humiliated and inclined to comfort, the tooth of the enemy will stretch from Jerusalem to Mecca, and then everyone will regret on a day when regret is of no use,” al-Ghamdi said.
The two videotaped testimonies had never been seen before.
Al-Shehri was on American Airlines Flight 11, which was the first to hit the World Trade Center. Al-Ghamdi was on United Airlines Flight 175, which hit the second tower.
Unclear when tape was made
In the footage, Bin Laden wore a dark robe and white headdress, and was shown sitting alongside his former lieutenant Mohammed Atef and Ramzi Binalshibh, another suspected planner of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Atef, also known as Abu Hafs al-Masri, was killed by a U.S. airstrike on Afghanistan in 2001. Binalshibh was captured four years ago in Pakistan and is currently in U.S. custody, and last week Bush announced plans to put him on military trial.
Bin Laden was shown expressing his appreciation for the Taliban, the Islamic regime that ran Afghanistan and gave refuge to al-Qaida until the U.S.-led invasion toppled them in late 2001.
“They allowed us to prepare and train, despite international pressure, and knowing that we were getting ready to strike the idols of this age — the American forces and the NATO pact,” the al-Qaida leader said.
The video showed events up to 10 years before the Sept. 11 attacks — U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War, bin Laden preaching to followers after the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Sudan. It also showed events afterward including a man in an orange jumpsuit at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It was unclear when the tape was made, or how soon before the Sept. 11 attacks the footage of bin Laden was recorded.
It contained previously aired footage of al-Zawahiri, blaming the United States for provoking terror attacks.
“The Bush presidency was a bunch of cocky fools, motivated by crusader hatred ... which led them to imagine that they could takeover the entire world,” he said. “They threw themselves, their people and their nation into a sea of fire from which they are uselessly trying to secure themselves.”
The video also showed young men wearing Arab headdresses and sitting on the ground, watching a recorded speech by bin Laden on a laptop computer and the narrator suggested Muslim youth have been emboldened since bin Laden’s attacks five years ago.
“The calls of the Mujahid Sheik Abu Abdullah Osama Bin Laden awakened the consciousness of the youth of Islam ... and awakened their spirit of sacrifice, defiance and love of martyrdom,” the narrator said.
IntelCenter said the next video from As-Sahab was coming shortly and would contain an interview with al-Zawahiri conducted by As-Sahab. It was likely to be released in the next 24 hours to coincide with the anniversary of Sept. 11 but it could take as long as 72-hours, IntelCenter said.