Osama bin Laden claims on videotape to have calculated casualties in attack

Monday, December 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Osama bin Laden claims he calculated in advance how many casualties ``the enemy'' would suffer on Sept. 11, according to administration descriptions of a videotape that President Bush said ``just reminded me of what a murderer he is.''

``For those who see this tape, they realize that not only is he guilty of incredible murder, he has no conscience and no soul,'' Bush told reporters Monday.

Two senior administration officials said privately that Bush wants to let to the world see the tape seized in Afghanistan. They said he was holding off on a final decision while intelligence officials authenticate their Arabic translation with experts and recheck anything that might betray intelligence-gathering methods.

The tape could be released in the next two days, officials said.

Bush commented on the chilling tape during a White House celebration of Hanukkah. ``I couldn't imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah, or the joy of Christmas, or celebrating peace and hope. This man wants to destroy any semblance of civilization for his own power and his own good,'' Bush said.

The tape, which was discovered about 10 days ago in an abandoned apartment in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, was described to reporters by the small circle of administration officials who have seen the video or read a translation of its contents. A date stamped on the tape suggests it was produced in November, one of the officials said.

``The body language that I saw, really was just disgusting. I mean, that people would take delight in having killed innocent civilians is horrible,'' said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

Apparently made by an amateur with a handheld camera, the videotape shows bin Laden being interviewed or meeting with a cleric about the suicide hijackings that killed thousands in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. The suspected terrorist mastermind, speaking in Arabic, reportedly tells the story of how he tuned into news shows on the morning of Sept. 11, waited for reports of the first strikes on the World Trade Center, and then told companions there was more to come _ evidently referring to planes that later crashed into the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. He says he had expected New York's twin towers to collapse only down to the level where the hijacked airliners struck.

Two intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said bin Laden also revealed that, in advance of Sept. 11, he tallied up how many Americans could be killed, a casualty estimate ``for the enemy.'' Some 3,300 people died in the attacks.

In another section of the crudely produced tape, bin Laden's comments suggest that the plot's ringleaders did not tell all the hijackers that their mission would end in death. He also says that the suicide hijackers will be awarded virgins in the afterlife, sources said.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who read a transcript of the tape, declined to elaborate except to say that bin Laden ``claims piety by leading people to deaths that they very well were not aware of.''

``The president wants to share as much as possible with the country, to be as forthright as possible and to let people come to their own judgments by seeing things for themselves,'' Fleischer said. ``The president also wants to make certain that the ability to see things in the future is in no way impaired as a result of sharing something now.''

Sen. Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said the tape should be made public _ especially for its potential to sway Muslims who yet doubt the U.S. case against bin Laden. The leader of the al-Qaida terror network has not publicly taken responsibility for the attacks, though he has publicly praised them.

It is important ``that the world see this tape because there are still some places where there is suspicion about whether there is evidence to link bin Laden to the events of Sept. 11,'' Graham, D-Fla., said on CBS' ``The Early Show.''

The tape's release was a topic of Bush's regular National Security Council meeting Monday morning, Fleischer said.

The White House tried to block broadcast of previous videotaped messages from bin Laden, warning news executives that bin Laden might be using the tapes to send coded instructions to operatives outside Afghanistan.

But this tape is different, Fleischer said, because it ``does not appear to be prepackaged propaganda.''

Rep. Jim Gibbons, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the public's right to see the tape had to be balanced against serious concerns that if the tape is shown, bin Laden might be able to discern who made it and how it got into American hands.

``If there is an inadvertent disclosure, people's lives could be at risk,'' said Gibbons, R-Nev. ``You have to weigh that public good versus the danger.''