New Arabic-subtitled version of bin Laden tape airs on popular Arab station

Sunday, December 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Excerpts of an Arabic-subtitled version of terror suspect Osama bin Laden's latest videotape released by the Pentagon aired Saturday on the popular Qatari-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

The Arabic transcript of the tape also appeared in several Arab newspapers.

The tape, complete with a full transcript of the conversations in Arabic between bin Laden and others following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, followed Thursday's initial release of the tape to the world.

Many in the Middle East had doubted the tape's authenticity due to its poor sound quality and footage. There was also wide skepticism over the English translations.

To address that, the Bush administration sent Arab-friendly versions to U.S. embassies in the Middle East for distribution to media outlets.

``I guess we'd say: 'Just let them watch it,''' State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday of the Arabic-subtitled copy.

On Saturday, the Arabic transcript appeared in several Arab newspapers, including Egypt's leading daily Al-Ahram, the Saudi daily Al-Watan and the London-based Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia said it distributed an Arabic transcript of the tape to local Saudi newspapers and the official Saudi Press Agency, and sent a copy of the video with scrolling Arabic text to state-run Saudi Television.

Abdul Rahman al-Hazzaa, news director at the Saudi station, said there was no plan to show the video, but the Arabic version may be used instead of the English version in the future.

Al-Jazeera aired excerpts of Arabic-subtitled tape as part of a Saturday program discussing the treatment of Muslims in the West and the tape's effect on Islam's image.

One excerpt showed bin Laden saying how the Sept. 11 hijackers knew they were only conducting a ``martyrdom mission'' until shortly before boarding their planes, while another showed bin Laden commenting on how he had calculated in advance the number of casualties.

During the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, U.S. officials have taken issue with Al-Jazeera's coverage as inflammatory propaganda. They have also criticized the influential station for airing taped statements said to be made inside Afghanistan by bin Laden and his aides.

Many of the Arab viewers who called the Al-Jazeera program Saturday were unconvinced and said the tape was fabricated.

But Khalid Safouri, an Islamic activist and a guest on the show, said if ``America wanted to fabricate the tape, it had enough time to do that and to present it before the war (on Afghanistan) and thus convince the Arab and Islamic street.''

Egyptian Islamic writer Fahmi Howeidi said, however, that American hopes that the new tape with Arabic subtitles would convince doubting Arabs were unlikely to be realized.

``There is a psychological barrier between the people and Washington, and I don't think the tape would change anything,'' Howeidi told The Associated Press.

He said America was trying to vindicate itself, but was too late since Afghan civilians have already been killed or left homeless in the U.S.-led war against terrorism.