Al-Qaida video shows five suspects giving 'martyrdom messages,' U.S. says

Thursday, January 17th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government on Thursday released photos and video excerpts of five suspected al-Qaida members delivering what Attorney General John Ashcroft described as ``martyrdom messages from suicide terrorists.''

Ashcroft called upon people worldwide to help ``identify, locate and incapacitate terrorists who are suspected of planning additional attacks against innocent civilians.''

``These men could be anywhere in the world,'' he said.

Ashcroft said five videotapes, shown without sound, had been recovered from the rubble of the home of Mohammad Atef, believed to have been Osama bin Laden's military chief. Officials say Atef was killed by a U.S. airstrike in November. The sound was left out to guard against the possibility that the messages contained signals for other terrorists.

Ashcroft said the videotapes ``depict young men delivering what appear to be martyrdom messages from suicide terrorists.'' He added that an analysis of the audio suggests ``the men may be trained and prepared to commit future suicide terrorist acts.''

He said the government had tentatively identified four of the five men depicted in the video as: Abd Al-Rahim, Muhammad Sa'id Ali Hasan, Khalid Ibn Muhammad Al-Juhani and Ramzi Binalshibh. Ashcroft said not much is known about any of them except Binalshibh, a Yemeni whom officials allege was an associate of the Sept. 11 suicide hijacker Mohammed Atta.

In the indictment handed down in December against Zacarias Moussaoui, Binalshibh was named along with Atta and the 18 other hijackers as an unindicted co-conspirator.

At a news conference, Ashcroft showed 30-second videos of Hasan, Al-Rahim and Al-Juhani.

Ashcroft said investigators were still translating the tapes; a decision about releasing the sound or a translation would be made after weighing security concerns, he said, adding that the department may decide not to release the sound.

``The portions we released today we felt were safe for release and we didn't believe they contained any surreptitious messages or coded signals that would be designed to alert parts of the terrorist network,'' Ashcroft said.

In the tapes, Hasan spoke, eyes cast down; he appeared to be reading but only his face was shown. He wore a black and white scarf around his head.

Al-Rahim was shown seated, talking and gesturing rapidly, at one point holding fingers up as if listing off various points.

In a disturbing video, Al-Juhani was shown seated in front of a colorful curtain taking a red and white scarf off his head and burying his head in his arms.

In a new setting with a plain background, Al-Juhani was shown hugging a rifle with a leather strap that had Arabic writing on it. Al-Juhani held the rifle close, not speaking, and at one point put his lips close to it, eyes closed. He then looked up and smiled.

Ashcroft said the public release of the video footage and photos was part of an effort to help ``freedom-loving people become the best line of self-defense.''

As for the attack that he said was called for in the video, Ashcroft said: ``Whether or not the attack would be imminent or not is something we can't determine.''

FBI Director Robert Mueller said the videos came ``from a trove of valuable information'' discovered within Afghanistan. He said the tapes are still being analyzed to determine when they were made. He said there was no evidence any of the men had entered the United States, although at least one had tried.

``Every piece of information is potentially valuable,'' he said. ``The principle is simple: An informed and enlightened public works.''

Mueller said that as the U.S. military action goes forward, ``it continues in ways that I think supports what we, and the CIA, are engaged in, which is identifying terrorists and preventing future attacks.''

Ashcroft said officials believe progress is being made in combating terrorism but added: ``We have a long way to go.

``We're further down the road then we were before, but this is no time for us to take our foot off the accelerator,'' he said.

Ashcroft said the release of specific photos allows the American people to be a ``constructive part'' of the investigation.

The al-Qaida video was found by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. The videos retrieved by U.S. special forces provide first-time images of a raft of suspected terrorists.

The video is among a mountain of items found in Afghanistan and elsewhere that U.S. investigators are combing through for clues about al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden and potential new terrorist attacks.

Documents and a videotape found in Afghanistan and passed to authorities in Singapore foiled a planned terrorist attack and resulted in the breakup of an al-Qaida cell there.

In Australia, a tape from Afghanistan showing al-Qaida militants practicing a mass assassination of world leaders at a golf tournament and plans for an attack on a motorcade in Washington was analyzed by U.S. defense officials.