Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahri, said in a videotape aired Monday — but apparently produced before the U.S. presidential elections — that there was no difference between the American candidates, and he vowed to continue fighting the United States until Washington changed its policies.
“We are a nation of patience, and we will continue fighting you until the last hour,” al-Zawahri said on the tape, an excerpt of which was aired by the Arab satellite television network al-Jazeera.
Seven times previously, a broadcast statement by al-Zawahri has preceded a major attack by al-Qaida by a month or less.
Reference to presidential election
Al-Zawahri, an Egyptian physician, also spoke of the Nov. 2 U.S. presidential elections.
“The results of the elections do not matter for us,” al-Zawahri said in the excerpt, which was about three minutes long. “Vote whoever you want, Bush, Kerry or the devil himself. This does not concern us. What concerns us is to purge our land from the aggressors.”
He accused the United States of trying to coerce the Muslim world through force to satisfy Israel and to achieve its own interests. He said the invasion of Iraq was only a prelude to what the whole Muslim world might be subjected to by the United States.
“What the crusader forces do not occupy today is its next target tomorrow,” al-Zawahri said, according to a translation by MSNBC-TV.
At one point, he spoke directly to the American people: “Either you choose to treat us with respect and based on an exchange of interests ... or we will continue to fight you until you change your policies.”
It was unclear whether al-Jazeera planned to show more of the tape later.
Al-Zawahri, bearded and bespectacled, sat before a white background, half-covered with a blanket. His voice sounded calm and steady, as in previous tapes.
He did not refer to bin Laden, who warned in a videotape broadcast last month by al-Jazeera of possible new attacks of the magnitude of those of Sept. 11, 2001.
Bin Laden also spoke to Americans in that tape, saying: “Your security is not in the hands of Kerry, Bush or al-Qaida. Your security is in your own hands. ... Any state that does not mess with our security has naturally guaranteed its own security.”
Al-Zawahri tapes may have been shot at same time
U.S. intelligence analysts, who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity, said the videotape may have been shot at the same location as the most recent previous videotape recorded by al-Zawahri, which was aired Sept. 9.
A U.S. official said that the background in the videotapes appeared to be identical and that a rifle seen in the background of the video aired Monday appeared to be the same one in the Sept. 9 tape.
The official would not say whether the CIA had a copy of the al-Zawahri tape in advance, as it did the bin Laden tape last month.
The United States has offered a $25 million reward for the capture of bin Laden and al-Zawahri, both of whom are believed to be hiding in the tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
U.S. intelligence analysts pay nearly as much attention to the timing of such broadcasts as to the content because seven statements by al-Zawahri have been followed within a month by major al-Qaida attacks.
On an eighth occasion, al-Zawahri called for the assassination of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Six weeks later, would-be assassins believed to be linked to al-Qaida tried to kill him twice within 12 days.
Al-Zawahri, the former leader of the terrorist group Egyptian Islamic Jihad, has himself been sentenced to death for his role in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. He is also charged with conspiracy in the deadly bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
U.S. intelligence officials have refused to speculate about whether the al-Zawahri tapes might contain calls to action for al-Qaida cells, but officials of the Homeland Security Department have acknowledged that one upgrade in the U.S. terrorist threat alert status was triggered by the release of an al-Zawahri tape.