The Arabic television channel Al-Jazeera said Saturday that it received the latest videotaped message from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden at its offices in the Pakistani capital.
In the videotaped message, bin Laden claims full responsibility for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and warns Americans that “your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al-Qaida. Your security is in your own hands"
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said U.S. intelligence analysts, who were reviewing the tape, believed that the message was authentic and had been produced recently.
The tape was dropped off at the gate of the station’s office in an envelope on Friday, just hours before it aired, said Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan, Al-Jazeera’s bureau chief in Pakistan.
“We received it in Pakistan. ... Somebody dropped it yesterday at the gate,” Zaidan told The Associated Press. “The guard brought it to me along with other mail. It was in an envelope, I opened it and it was a big scoop.”
Zaidan said he immediately transmitted the tape to Al-Jazeera’s headquarters in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar.
Bin Laden and his top deputy, Egyptian surgeon Ayman al-Zawahri, are both believed to be hiding in the mountains that straddle the Afghan-Pakistan border, although there has been no hard evidence of their whereabouts for more than three years.
A senior State Department official told NBC News that the Qatari government told the United States about the tape within the last day. The U.S. ambassador, Chase Untermeyer, unsuccessfully lobbied Qatari officials to persuade Al-Jazeera not to air it, the official said.
U.S. officials told NBC News that there was no plan to raise the terrorist threat level, currently at yellow, or “elevated,” because bin Laden makes no specific threat. He does, however, warn that the “main reasons” for the Sept. 11 attacks “are still existing to repeat what happened before.”
‘We are a free people’
In the tape, bin Laden — wearing traditional white robes, a turban and a tan cloak — reads from papers at a lectern against a plain brown background. Speaking quietly in an even voice, he tells the American people that he ordered the Sept. 11 attacks because “we are a free people” who wanted to “regain the freedom” of their nation.
“Do not play with our security, and spontaneously you will secure yourself,” he says, according to a translation by NBC News.
U.S. officials told The Associated Press that one part of their analysis would be to discern whether there were hidden messages or clues about a possible future attack. But they said it was too early to know that yet.
Bush was informed of the tape aboard Air Force One late Friday morning by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. “Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country,” he told reporters at the airport in Toledo, Ohio. “I’m sure Senator Kerry will agree with me.”
“I also want to say we are at war with these terrorists,” said Bush, who added that he was “confident we will prevail.”
Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, echoed Bush's comments.
“As Americans, we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden and the terrorists," Kerry said in West Palm Beach, Fla. “They’re barbarians, and I will stop at absolutely nothing to hunt down, capture or kill the terrorists wherever they are, whatever it takes, period.”
Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said authorities have no information about who might have given Al-Jazeera the tape, but he stuck to Pakistan’s position that there was no proof bin Laden is in the country.
“We have no idea where they got it,” he told AP. “I don’t think he is in Pakistan.”
Change of rhetoric
NBC’s Richard Engel reported that bin Laden spoke in a modern style of Arabic, in contrast to the flowery Quranic language he has used in previous messages. He appeared to be speaking in a fashion he thought would be better suited to this target audience, the American people.
Although he mentions Kerry, most of bin Laden’s message is in regard to Bush, who faces Kerry in next week’s presidential election. He accuses President Bush of “misleading” the American people for the three years since the Sept. 11 attacks.
In no previous authenticated message — audio or video — had bin Laden explicitly stated that he ordered the 2001 attacks, which killed almost 3,000 people.
But in the new tape, he claims full responsibility. “We decided to destroy towers in America so they may taste what we have tasted,” he says, clearly referring to the World Trade Center.
In the course of his comments, bin Laden revealed just how patiently he awaited his opportunity to strike the West. He said he first vowed to destroy “the buildings of tyrants” after the devastating Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 — 19 years before he directed followers to fly four jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and an unknown third target.
At one point, bin Laden ridicules Bush for reacting slowly to the 2001 attacks.
“We never thought that the high commander of the U.S. armies would leave 50,000 of his citizens in both towers to face the horrors by themselves when they most needed him because it seemed to distract his attention from listening to the girl telling him about her goat butting,” he says, referring to Bush’s decision to wait more than seven minutes after being informed of the attacks before leaving an elementary room classroom in Florida where a student was reading a story called “The Pet Goat.”
Bin Laden admits setbacks
U.S. officials told NBC News that in parts of the tape not aired by Al-Jazeera, bin Laden acknowledges that the recent Afghan elections were not a success for him because “they came off with minimal violence.” And he admits that “aggressive Pakistani operations” in South Waziristan, where he is believed to be hiding, have hurt his operations.
Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, the Pakistani army spokesman, said he doubted bin Laden was in the country, pointing to intense efforts to hunt down al-Qaida fugitives in the tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona, a Middle East specialist and former military official at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, said the tape was surprising in that it appeared to demonstrate that bin Laden was in good health. Bin Laden’s condition has been the subject of intense speculation since the United States launched massive airstrikes in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The last authenticated contemporaneous video message from bin Laden appeared in December 2001, when he discussed a U.S. attack on a mosque. U.S. officials told NBC News that all subsequent videos of bin Laden were believed to have been recorded around the time of the Sept. 11 attacks and broadcast much later.
The last audio message from bin Laden was on May 6, when he offered rewards in gold for the assassination of top U.S. and U.N. officials in Iraq. On Oct. 1, al-Zawahri, bin Laden’s second-in-command, issued an audiotape calling on young Muslims to strike the United States and its allies.
ABC News also received a purported al-Qaida tape in Pakistan in recent days, this one showing a shrouded man claiming to be an American member of the terror network who threatened more attacks and said U.S. streets would “run red with blood.”
Intelligence officials, however, have not been able to verify the tape’s authenticity. Both the bin Laden video and the one aired by ABC News carried banners attributing them to the Sahab Production Committee, a purported al-Qaida propaganda company.