New video shows Bin Laden alive
Mystery over timing of al-Qaida leader footage

Oliver Burkeman in New York
Thursday December 27, 2001
The Guardian

American military officials were studying a new video-tape of Osama bin Laden last night which suggested that the al-Qaida leader was still alive as recently as two weeks ago.

In the video - an excerpt from which was broadcast yesterday on the Arabic satellite news channel al-Jazeera based in Qatar - Bin Laden, looking exhausted but relaxed, describes the September 11 attacks as acts of "benevolent terrorism" intended to force the United States to abandon support for Israel.

Wearing military fatigues and clutching an AK47 submachine gun against a brown canvas backdrop, he condemns America as a country which talks about freedom and humanitarianism but which has itself committed crimes against the people of Afghanistan.

Rumours have been growing that Bin Laden may already be dead, but the statement suggested that he may have been alive as little as two weeks ago.

He tells the camera that he is making the broadcast "three months after the blessed attack against the international infidels and its leaders, the United States, and two months after the beginning of the vicious aggression against Islam" - America's bombing raids on Afghanistan, which began on October 7.

That timing, if correct, suggests that the statement was made about two weeks ago, when US forces began heavy bombing of the Tora Bora mountains, home to the cave network where Bin Laden was thought to have been hiding.

There has been no trace of him since. The Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, said this week that he was "reasonably sure" that the Saudi millionaire had been killed in the bombing.

In the excerpt broadcast last night, Bin Laden says: "It is quite clear now that the west, generally speaking, and in particular America, has an incredible hatred of Islam.

"The people who have lived the last months under the continual American air strikes, they know that very well. Many villages were wiped out for no crime and many millions were displaced in this cold weather."

AP reported that as he spoke, he gestured with his right hand, keeping his left hand down at his side and perfectly still. Bin Laden is left-handed, according to the FBI website.

It remains unclear if he avoided using that hand because of a problem or injury. Islam also considers the right hand more blessed and left-handed gestures can be considered less proper to those who strictly interpret Islam. Bin Laden often has been shown gesturing with his right hand.

The Pentagon said yesterday it was translating the 33-minute tape and was expected to release a transcript today, providing that it did not contain messages to Bin Laden's followers which might pose a threat to national security. Al-Jazeera said it would broadcast the full tape today.

In the excerpt, Bin Laden refers to the bombing of a mosque in the town of Khost as taking place "several days" before the recording was made. It is not clear which strike he is referring to but US Central Command said a stray bomb had damaged just such a building on November 16.

"All that you hear about mistaken strikes is a lie and a sheer lie," Bin Laden says on the tape. "Several days ago they bombed - as they claimed - 'positions of a Taliban base in Khost', and sent a missile to a mosque and said it was a mistake. And after investigation, it was clear that some religious scholars were praying."

Al-Jazeera's chief editor, Ibrahim Hilal, said the station had received the tape "a couple of days ago" via air courier from an anonymous sender in Pakistan.

It is the first sign of Bin Laden since the recorded discussion, made public on December 13, in which he recalled his delight at the September attacks.

Richard McGraw, a senior spokesman for the Pentagon, said he remained to be convinced about the recording.

"I don't know if it's real, if it's new, if it's old," he said. But, he added, "nothing that Osama bin Laden does surprises me".

The Foreign Office in London refused to comment in detail on the tape until it had been analysed and transcribed. But a spokesman said that if the reports were accurate, the tape meant Bin Laden had effectively "admitted responsibility for the attacks on the US, which is what we have said all along - that he was responsible."

The spokesman said the Palestinians had already rejected any suggestion that Bin Laden had been acting in their interests.

Propaganda warfare

October 7As the US and British bombing of Afghanistan begins, al-Jazeera airs a pre-recorded film of Osama bin Laden - the first time the world had heard from the al-Qaida leader since September 11

October 10 The first video made by al-Qaida since start of the allied campaign calls on Muslims across the world to wage holy war

October 11 US TV networks agree to censor the Bin Laden videos after talks with the US national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.

December The US admin-istration releases a "smoking gun" video purporting to show Bin Laden admitting his part in the September 11 attacks. The 40-minute tape, believed to have been shot with a camcorder, appears to show him telling a visiting cleric about the planning of the attack and his delight at the carnage. US officials say the tape was found in a house in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan, and handed to the Pentagon

December 26 Al-Jazeera airs excerpts of the latest video

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