President Bush said Saturday that Osama bin Laden's first video appearance in three years is a reminder of "the dangerous world in which we live."
"It's important that we show resolve and determination to protect ourselves, to deny al-Qaida safe haven and support young democracies, which will be a major defeat to their ambitions," Bush said about the video released just days before the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
In a 30-minute speech addressed to Americans, bin Laden boasts about the impact of the 2001 attacks, mocks the democratic system of government in the United States and lambastes the Bush administration for initiating the war in Iraq. The video was obtained by the U.S. government, NBC News and other news organizations Friday.
"I found it interesting that on the tape, Iraq was mentioned, which is a reminder that Iraq is a part of this war against extremists," Bush said. "If al-Qaida bothers to mention Iraq, it's because they want to achieve their objectives in Iraq, which is to drive us out and to develop a safe haven. And the reason they want a safe haven is to launch attacks against America or any other ally."
In the tape, bin Laden criticizes Democrats for failing to stop the Iraq conflict that the "vast majority" of Americans want stopped.
“You elected the Democratic Party for this purpose," he says, according to a translated transcript of the tape. “On the contrary, they continue to agree to spending of tens of billions to continue the killings and the war there.”
The video contains no specific threat. Bin Laden is shown wearing a white robe, a white circular cap and a beige cloak as he reads the address to the American people.
Tape presumed to be authentic
Although the CIA has not completed a full analysis, intelligence officials told NBC News that they "presume the tape is authentic, and this is bin Laden."
A technical analysis suggests the voice on the video is that of bin Laden, a different intelligence official said. He said he had no analysis of bin Laden's physical appearance on the tape.
The video gives a rare look at the al-Qaida leader, who has likely avoided appearing in videos as a security measure.
His emergence now underlines the U.S. failure to catch him after six years and comes at a time when terrorism experts believe al-Qaida is regrouping in the lawless Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.
The al-Qaida leader has not appeared in new video footage since October 2004, and he has not put out a new audiotape in more than a year.
Bin Laden starts his speech with praise to God, adding, "and from His law is retaliation in kind: An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and the killer is killed."
He goes on to deride Bush, saying Washington was backing Shiites against Sunnis in Iraq but that events in Iraq had gotten "out of control," and Bush had become "like the one who plows and sows the sea: he harvests nothing but failure."
Bin Laden says the prestige of the mujahideen — or holy warriors — has "grown globally" while America has been "bled dry economically."
Bin Laden also recommends reading books by American authors Noam Chomsky and Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst. Chomsky's book cites various examples of American imperialism, while Scheuer's book argues that the U.S. does not understand the Islamic predicament.
Bin Laden urges the U.S to embrace Islam if they want the war in Iraq to end.
"There are two solutions to stopping it. One is from our side, and it is to escalate the fighting and killing against you. This is our duty, and our brothers are carrying it out," bin Laden says, according to the transcript.
"The second solution is from your side," he says. "I invite you to embrace Islam."
'Bizarre — as usual'One U.S. official described the video to NBC News as "bizarre — as usual."
Officials told NBC News that they believe the tape was made sometime in June or later because of the specific references to the new French President Nikolas Zarkozy, inaugurated in May, and the new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, installed in June.
The Department of Homeland Security said Thursday it had no credible information warning of an imminent threat to the United States, and analysts noted that al-Qaida tends to mark the Sept. 11 anniversary with a slew of messages.
“Historically the anniversary of 9/11 has never been drawn to attacks. It’s drawn to video releases,” said Ben Venzke, chief executive officer of IntelCenter, which monitors Islamic Web sites and analyzes terror threats.
Web sites shut down
The United States intercepted the video before it was released on Islamic Web sites where al-Qaida usually posts its messages, a U.S. counterterrorism official said, without elaborating on how. U.S. officials analyzed the video for hours before transcripts and videos were leaked, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Soon after Washington announced it had the video, all the Islamic militant Web sites that usually carry statements from al-Qaida went down and were inaccessible, in an unprecedented shutdown.
The reason for the shutdown was not immediately known. Evan Kohlmann, an NBC News terrorism expert, said he suspected it was the work of al-Qaida itself, trying to find how the video leaked to U.S. officials.
"For them this is totally disruptive that the U.S. government could have a copy before their targeted audience does," he said. "They could be concerned and trying to plug the leak quickly."
Kohlmann said it was unlikely the U.S. government shut down the sites.
"I don't think they would have the legal or technical capability to do so, to collectively shut all these sites at the same time. Also, I don't think the U.S. government is necessarily interested in shutting these sites down, unless there is something so provocative and dangerous in what bin Laden is saying."
"It's pretty remote that the content of his speech is so incendiary that they would shut down all the sites. The idea that they (U.S. government) could totally prevent this from coming out on the Internet is ludicrous," he said.
Bin Laden sports apparently dyed beard
The release of the video may have been driven by reports that bin Laden is dead, NBC News' Robert Windrem said. U.S. intelligence officials have been quoted, as they were before the 2004 tape, as saying there are equal bodies of evidence that bin Laden was alive or dead.
Al-Qaida’s media arm, Al-Sahab, announced bin Laden’s new message in a banner advertisement on an Islamic militant Web site that included a photo of him.
“Soon, God willing, a videotape from the lion sheik Osama bin Laden, God preserve him,” the advertisement read, signed by Al-Sahab. Such announcements are usually put out one to three days before the video is posted on the Web.
One difference in bin Laden's appearance was immediately obvious. The video showed bin Laden's beard fully black. In his past videos, bin Laden’s beard was almost entirely gray with dark streaks.
Bin Laden’s beard appears to have been dyed, a popular practice among Arab leaders, said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Institute, a Washington-based group that monitors terror messages.
“I think it works for their (al-Qaida’s) benefit that he looks young, he looks healthy,” Katz said.