Somber and composed, bin Laden appears in newly released footage

Friday, October 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) _ Rigid, unsmiling and flanked by AK-47-carrying followers, Osama bin Laden appeared in tape broadcast Friday showing the terror suspect sought by the United States in the rough, dry mountains of his Afghan base.

Al-Jazeera television in Qatar said it believed the 30-second clip it aired was the most recent images of the exiled Saudi, Washington's chief suspect in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The TV station did not say whether the footage had been taped before or after the Sept. 11 attacks, or how it obtained it. Bin Laden has a history of using the closely watched Arab satellite channel as a conduit to the outside world, doling out interviews and footage over the years.

In the newly released tape, bin Laden, dressed in white and beige robes and an Afghan-style dark turban, stands side-by-side with his top lieutenant, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri.

Men armed with AK-47s, their faces covered, stand near the two.

Around them was a stark encampment of three or four squat cement huts and a half-dozen or so sand-colored tents.

Rough, arid mountains lie behind them, lit by slanting rays of what appears either early morning or late afternoon sun.

Singing and the beating of drums ring out in the background. Bin Laden at times glances toward the camera, his face unmoving.

Al-Jazeera said the footage was believed to record a celebration of the union of bin Laden's al-Qaida network and al-Zawahri's Egyptian Jihad. It also marked the graduation of a group of newly trained fighters into al-Qaida, Al-Jazeera said.

There was no obvious reason for timing of the release of the tape, and bin Laden spoke no words on it _ his Islamic Taliban hosts in the past have discouraged him from speaking publicly.

It also was not clear what union the video would have commemorated.

In 1998, al-Zawahri's group, Jihad, and three other militant Islamic organizations linked up with al-Qaida to form bin Laden's new International Front for Fighting Jews and Crusades.

Beyond that alliance, there has been no known announcement of any closer partnership.

Al-Zawahri's group, Jihad, is linked to the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, 20 years ago Saturday.

The alliance with al-Qaida led to a split within Jihad, some of whose members feared taking on the United States.

An editor at Al-Jazeera, who asked not to be identified, said the station had no information about the tape beyond what appeared on the air.

Operating since 1996, Al-Jazeera has provided an alternative to Arab broadcasting's usual, uncritical news fare of country's leaders.

Their reports over the years have angered Muslim governments across the political spectrum, and have drawn criticism of the United States in the high tensions following the attacks on the United States.

Bin Laden was last seen in public in February, at his son's wedding in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

Then, bin Laden praised the October suicide-bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 American sailors. ``The pieces of the bodies of infidels were flying like dust particles. If you had seen it with your own eyes ... your heart would have been filled with joy,'' he said.