Los Angeles’s police chief dismissed as “just rhetoric” a taped threat by a purported al-Qaida member that was aired by ABC News on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Yesterday, London and Madrid. Tomorrow, Los Angeles and Melbourne, Allah willing,” the masked man says on the tape that ABC said it received Saturday. The man — believed to be an American — speaks in unaccented English.
“And this time, don’t count on us demonstrating restraint and compassion,” he says on the tape, aired Sunday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Australian officials said residents should carry on with their lives and not be cowed by the purported threat against Melbourne, their nation’s second-largest city.
The network said the tape had been delivered to ABC in Pakistan. The man on the 11-minute tape, wearing a black turban with most of his face covered, called the attacks of four years ago “blessed events.” ABC said the man is believed to be Adam Yahiye Gadahn, an American from California who is wanted by the FBI. The CIA said Sunday it was aware of the report but had no immediate comment about the tape’s authenticity.
Counterterror officials believe Gadahn also may be the person on a 75-minute video given to ABC News last year in Pakistan. That tape was later deemed authentic.
Los Angeles Chief William Bratton said officials were aware of no clear threat to the city and didn’t see the tape as significant.
“At this juncture, we feel it’s just rhetoric,” Bratton said Monday on NBC’s “Today” show. “He is a low-level operative. They put him out front during the national election and used him in a similar fashion.”
While no steps are planned in response to the video, he said, the city is always on the lookout for terrorists and plans heightened security measures in upcoming days for the Jewish high holidays.
“The statement was meant to instill fear, and fear is the most potent weapon the terrorists posses,” Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said earlier in a statement. “Bombastic pronouncements are expected on the eve of terrorist incidents like September 11, but we cannot let such pronouncements alter our lifestyles.”
Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock, who is responsible for the nation’s top spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, said the threat was being taken seriously although the nation’s security threat level remained unchanged at medium.
Ruddock told parliament the video appeared to be authentic, “but that does not mean that the statements in it are anything more than rhetoric.”
Australian Prime Minister John Howard said the best response “is to redouble our protective efforts, which we are doing, but also to get on with life, which we are also doing.”
A phone listing for Gadahn’s father, Philip Gadahn, could not be found Sunday. Gadahn’s aunt, Nancy Pearlman, said she had seen news coverage of the video but the family had no comment.
Last year Philip Gadahn said that he was baffled by the allegation his son was an al-Qaida operative, saying he has spoken to his son only occasionally in recent years.