In the United States, it was a talking point for the nation. But in the Muslim world, Thursday’s release of the Osama bin Laden videotape had considerably less impact—and did little to convince skeptics that America’s most wanted man had indeed masterminded the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
“I THINK THERE IS an Osama bin Laden look-alike,” Gen. Hamid Gul, the influential former head of Pakistan’s intelligence service (ISI) told the BBC. It is a sentiment widely shared within Arab countries. “[The tape] is a sort of high-tech gimmick,” the general continued.
Gul, who told NEWSWEEK in September that he believed the attacks were an Israeli-engineered coup attempt against the U.S. government, suggested that the Bush administration had released the tape because of “a pervasive sense of guilt” for the bombing campaign in Afghanistan. The hourlong video shows bin Laden and his supporters gloating over the deaths of more than 3,000 people in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “They [the Americans] have really ravaged a nation, and they are looking for an excuse,” Gul said.
The tape generated little reaction in Afghanistan itself. It was not shown on Afghan television and few residents have access to foreign satellite-news networks. In fact, for many Muslims in the Mideast, the release of the bin Laden video took a backseat to the escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Although it was broadcast by both CNN and Al-Jazeera, Arab newspapers mostly played down their coverage of the tape and few ran editorials on the subject. “This does not prove that bin Laden was responsible for the September 11 attack,” said political analyst Labib Kamhawi in Jordan. “Maybe it reflects wishful thinking for what had happened or praising the attacks.”
A sample of other reactions from around the world:
Saudi Arabia (birthplace of bin Laden and 15 of the 19 suspected hijackers): “The tape displays the cruel and inhuman face of a murderous criminal who has no respect for the sanctity of human life or the principles of his faith,” said Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the United States, in a statement. “Bin Laden and those he mentions in his tape are deviants and renegades who do not represent the Islamic faith or the Saudi people. We reject and condemn in the strongest terms possible their attitudes and their actions.”
Syria: “I don’t know if it’s really him or if it’s someone who looks like him.” —An unidentified member of Osama bin Laden’s family, speaking to the AFP wire service from Latakia, northwest Syria.
Turkey: “It is clear that the September 11 attack was the work of bin Laden and his people who dominated the Taliban and even Afghanistan. Bin Laden has committed a crime against humanity, and above that, against Islam,” wrote Ilnur Cevik in an editorial in the Turkish Daily News.
Qatar: ”[The tape is] unlikely to clarify the truth, but rather increase the fog.” —Al-Sharq newspaper, one of the few newspapers in the region to carry an editorial on the video.
United States: “For anyone who was not convinced of Osama bin Laden’s complicity in the events of September 11, the content of this videotape should remove all doubt.” —Statement released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group.
Egypt: “The tape is suspicious. It’s not continuous and the sound is muffled.” —Military analyst Hassan Suweilam, speaking on an Egyptian talk show.
Pakistan: “I interviewed [Osama bin Laden], and there was not any difference [in] the way he was shown in the video.” —Hamid Mir, the Pakistani journalist who interviewed bin Laden five weeks ago at an unknown location in Afghanistan. Mir added that bin Laden was in the habit of taping some of his activities and had made a video of Mir himself at the time of their interview. “When I asked him why he was making the videos, he said ‘it is for my record’,” Mir told the Pakistan News Service.
United Arab Emirates: “There is no doubt in my mind that bin Laden was behind those operations. The tape confirms that in a way that leaves no room for doubt.” —United Arab Emirates Information Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Zaid al-Nahayan.
Jordan: “In my view this tape has been fabricated by Washington to condemn bin Laden and conceal America’s ugly crimes in Afghanistan.” —Yousef Abdul Hamid, a taxi driver in the capital of Amman.
With Colin Soloway in Kabul
© 2003 Newsweek, Inc.