Al-Jazeera TV airs apparently recent tape of bin Laden, but no clues about where he is

Thursday, December 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Osama bin Laden, pale and gaunt after months of U.S. bombardment, defended ``our terror'' against the United States in a videotape apparently made in recent weeks and broadcast in full Thursday on an Arabic satellite channel.

Bin Laden, his beard gone mostly white, appeared sitting in front of a cave wall with a machine gun propped to his right. He praised the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in eastern Africa.

But he did not directly take responsibility for the attacks, both of which have been blamed on his al-Qaida terror network.

Occasionally smiling, bin Laden said it was ``inconceivable'' that his followers would ``go after innocent civilians.''

``Our terrorism is against America. Our terrorism is a blessed terrorism to prevent the unjust person from committing injustice and to stop American support for Israel, which kills our sons,'' bin Laden said in the video. Al-Jazeera had broadcast excerpts Wednesday and Thursday before playing the entire tape Thursday night.

Those who carried out the attacks on New York and Washington were ``just 19 high school students _ may God accept them as martyrs _ who shook America, struck the American economy in the heart and hit the biggest military force at its heart with God's help,'' he said in the tape, aired on the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news channel.

It was not clear where the tape _ which the United States dismissed as ``propaganda'' _ was made.

But bin Laden makes comments suggesting it was made in early or mid-December. He said he was speaking ``three months after the blessed attack against the international infidels and their leaders, the United States, and two months after the beginning of the vicious aggression against Islam,'' apparent references to the Sept. 11 attacks and to the Oct. 7 start of U.S. retaliatory bombing of Afghanistan.

U.S. forces have been searching caves in the mountainous Tora Bora area of eastern Afghanistan, where bin Laden's al-Qaida fighters made their last stand. But for weeks, U.S. officials say, they have had no indication of where bin Laden might be _ in Tora Bora, elsewhere in Afghanistan, fleeing across Pakistan or even dead.

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said in China recently he was ``reasonably sure'' bin Laden had been killed by U.S. bombs at Tora Bora.

A spokesman for Afghanistan's new defense ministry said Thursday that bin Laden was in a border area of Pakistan with ``friends'' of a Pakistani Islamic activist.

The spokesman, Mohammad Abeel, did not give any sources for his information. And the interim prime minister, Hamid Karzai, said his government did not know where bin Laden was.

Abeel said bin Laden was with associates of Maulana Fazal-ur Rehman, the jailed leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, a pro-Taliban Pakistani party. Rehman denied the report in a telephone interview with Al-Jazeera.

The new Al-Jazeera tape, one of several the station has broadcast, showed bin Laden dressed in a green camouflage military jacket.

As he spoke into the camera, he gestured with his right hand, keeping his left hand still at his side. Bin Laden is left-handed, according to the FBI website. It wasn't clear if he avoided using that hand because of a problem or injury. Islam considers the right hand more blessed and left-handed gestures can be considered less proper. Bin Laden often has been shown gesturing with his right hand.

He appeared more tired than he did in an earlier tape that the Pentagon says was found in Afghanistan and dated Nov. 9. That video showed a relaxed, unscripted bin Laden is shown telling a visitor details of the Sept. 11 attacks and indicating he was involved in their planning. U.S. officials who said that tape was a virtual confession released it Dec. 13 and it was shown around the world.

Many Arab viewers, where bin Laden has struck a chord with his denunciations of the United States for its support of Israel and its alleged enmity toward Islam, questioned whether the poorly made tape was a hoax.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed the latest tape as ``nothing more than the same kind of terrorist propaganda we've heard before.'' He said he did not know whether government analysts had determined when the tape was made, or whether it indicates bin Laden is injured.

In the tape, Bin Laden said the U.S.-led bombardment of Afghanistan shows that the West and the United States have an ``indescribable 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.''

He likened the bombing to terrorism.

``In Nairobi, when the boys _ may God take them as martyrs _ used a 2,000-kilo (4,400-pound) bomb, the U.S. said this was terrorism, that this was a weapon of mass destruction. And now the U.S. is using two bombs, each weighing 7,000 kilos (15,500 pounds). No one is questioning this.''

The United States has indicted bin Laden in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.