AdvertisementTHE voice of Osama bin Laden has been heard for the first time in more than a year saying new attacks in the United States were being prepared but offering a “long-term” truce if US forces withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Addressing the American public on an audiotape delivered to the al-Jazeera television network, the al-Qaeda leader noted anti-war sentiment in the US and said a withdrawal would allow the two sides in the conflicts to “enjoy security and stability”.
The Bush Administration quickly rejected Bin Laden’s offer. “We do not negotiate with terrorists. We put them out of business,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. Vice-President Dick Cheney said: “It sounds to me like it’s some kind of ploy. This is not an organisation that’s ever going to sit down and sign a truce. I think you have to destroy them.”
On the tape, Bin Laden says the US defeat is inevitable. “Don’t let your strength and modern arms fool you. They win a few battles but lose the war. Patience and steadfastness are much better. We were patient in fighting the Soviet Union with simple weapons for 10 years,” he said, referring to the 1980s war in Afghanistan, “and we bled their economy and now they are nothing. In that there is a lesson for you.”
US intelligence analysts had judged the tape to be authentic, an intelligence official said. Bin Laden speaks in a low voice; the sound quality is generally poor. The tape ended speculation his long silence meant he was dead.
It is the first time since December 2004 that a recording of Bin Laden’s voice has surfaced. The intervening 13 months was the longest stretch of silence from Bin Laden since before the September 11, 2001 attacks.
During that period, Bin Laden’s prominence in Islamic radical circles had been eclipsed by two other figures: his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian fighter and insurgent leader in Iraq.
Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s leading theoretician and political strategist, has released at least eight recorded statements in the past year, including a tape last September in which he sought to quash rumours that bin Laden was dead or incapacitated.
Zarqawi, an occasional rival who has irked al-Qaeda’s original leadership with some of his tactics, regularly releases internet statements and claimed responsibility for orchestrating the hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan, last November.
Counter-terrorism analysts said bin Laden was under pressure to demonstrate he remained in control. “People like Zarqawi have been taking the spotlight from him,” said Mustafa Alani, director of terrorism and security studies at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai. “He’s saying the mother organisation is still alive and the leadership is still functioning.”
US, European and Pakistani intelligence officials have said they believe bin Laden is hiding along the rugged border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This week, US missiles struck a village on the Pakistani side in a failed effort to kill Zawahiri. Pakistani officials have said that among those killed — reports range from 13 to 18 — were four or five senior al-Qaeda figures.
While some analysts said Bin Laden’s reluctance to make himself more visible could be a sign of health problems — his last videotape was aired in October 2004 — others surmised he was worried more about his security.
“Every audio or video tape is potentially traceable by intelligence services,” said Paul Pillar, former deputy chief of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Centre and now a visiting professor at Georgetown University.
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