Osama bin Laden names some Sept. 11 hijackers in videotape, according to more thorough translations, U.S.-hired expert says

Friday, December 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Osama bin Laden speaks fondly of several Sept. 11 hijackers on the videotape released by the U.S. military, asking Allah to ``accept their action,'' according to a more thorough translation of the tape by a government-hired Arabic expert.

The new analysis of the videotape released last week revealed ``a whole bunch of names,'' translator George Michael said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The Pentagon said Friday that its less-complete translation was not aimed at concealing information.

``There was every attempt to give you the best translation we could in a relatively limited amount of time,'' Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told a press briefing.

The White House echoed that sentiment, saying there was no deliberate effort to omit words. ``I think that's far-fetched,'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Fleischer added that Bush administration officials had encouraged the media to seek independent translations. Any detail arising from those independent translations, Fleischer said, ``doesn't change anything for the president. The president ... had already known Osama bin Laden was responsible for this.''

Michael, one of two translators hired by the government, said he handed his more detailed transcript to the Pentagon on Wednesday at 1 p.m. He would identify only three names: Nawaq Alhamzi, Salem Alhamzi and Wail Alshehri.

``You'll have to talk to the Pentagon about the rest,'' Michael said.

An independent translator, who is a native Saudi, told the AP that bin Laden also utters the name Alghamdi several times in reference to suspected hijackers Ahmed Alghamdi, Hamza Alghamdi and Saeed Alghamdi.

References bin Laden made in the original transcription of the tape already tied him to the attacks _ but naming and blessing several hijackers suggests an intimacy that would reinforce U.S. claims of his deep involvement in the planning.

Federal investigators believe Alshehri was on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center in New York; Alhamzi and Alhamzi were on American Airlines Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon.

Ahmed and Hamza Alghamdi were aboard United Flight 175, the second plane to crash into the World Trade Center. Saeed Alghamdi died aboard United Flight 93, which crashed 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

The names only emerged now, Michael said, because the first translation was rushed in 12 hours, in a room in the Pentagon. It took four days to complete the fuller transcript, Michael said.

Clarke said Friday that it was not surprising to find more information with a more in-depth study of the conversation, considering the poor quality of the sound on the tape.

She said the translators had a ``couple of days'' to do the work.

The Pentagon released the first transcript last week, offering a glimpse of terrorist planning as bin Laden told his aides and clerics that the deaths and destruction achieved by the Sept. 11 attacks exceeded his ``most optimistic'' expectations.

Bin Laden appeared calm and at times amused as he talked about the attacks on the hour-long tape, dated Nov. 9, that the Bush administration said was found in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden's voice was difficult to hear on the tape, and government-hired translators at several points wrote ``inaudible'' when they didn't agree on an interpretation or when they couldn't make out the words. None of the hijackers' names that Michael included in his new translation were in the first transcript.

The first government translation disclosed that bin Laden mentioned Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the terrorists.

In the more thorough version, Michael said, bin Laden names several other hijackers and says: ``may God accept their action,'' according to the English translation. Bin Laden used ``Allah,'' the Arabic word for God.

Michael, who is originally Lebanese, translated the tape with Kassem Wahba, an Egyptian. Both men had difficulties with the Saudi dialect bin Laden and his guest use in the tape, Michael said.

Attempts to reach Wahba were unsuccessful.

Some passages remain a mystery, Michael said: Bin Laden's Saudi guest names the person who smuggled him from Saudi Arabia into Afghanistan.

Michael and Wahba were unable to make out the name, and Michael said that if anyone was able to identify the name, it would be a Saudi.

Ali al-Ahmed, a Saudi who translated the tape, told the AP that the visitor attaches the words ``jalad alhayaa'' _ a phrase that some use to describe the Saudi religious police _ to the smuggler's name.

Al-Ahmed's translation also claims that bin Ladens' guests delight in the support that several prominent Saudi clerics are giving to terrorists.

``Right at the time of the strike on America, he gave a very moving speech, Sheikh Abdulah al-Baraak,'' bin Laden said on the tape. ``And he deserves thanks for that.''

Al-Baraak teaches at a university in Saudi Arabia and acts as a religious adviser to government officials.

Any connection between bin Laden and a Saudi official would probably embarrass the Saudi government, which has given its support to the United States.

``I would think that all of this should have been obvious to the translators working for the government,'' al-Ahmed said. ``This might be an attempt to cover up what might hurt the United States politically.''

Al-Ahmed, who directs a Washington think tank, said the government has asked him for his own completed translation.