Bin Laden warns of attacks, offers truce


Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is seen in this April 1998 file photo in Afghanistan. Al-Jazeera aired an audiotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2006, saying al-Qaida is making preparations for attacks in the United States but offering a truce to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan.

AP Photo
Published: Friday, January 20, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 11:24 p.m.
The voice of Osama bin Laden was heard for the first time in more than a year Thursday, saying new attacks in the United States were being prepared but offering a "long-term" truce if U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. The tape quieted speculation that his long silence meant he was dead.
Addressing the American public on an audiotape delivered to the Al-Jazeera television network, the al-Qaeda leader noted anti-war sentiment in the United States and said that a withdrawal would allow the opposing sides in the conflicts to "enjoy security and stability."
The Bush administration quickly rejected bin Laden's offer. "We do not negotiate with terrorists. We put them out of business," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News Channel: "It sounds to me like it's some kind of ploy. This is not an organization that's ever going to sit down and sign a truce. I think you have to destroy them."
On the tape, bin Laden depicts inevitable U.S. defeat. "Don't let your strength and modern arms fool you. They win a few battles but lose the war. Patience and steadfastness are much better. We were patient in fighting the Soviet Union with simple weapons for 10 years," he said, referring to the 1980s war in Afghanistan, "and we bled their economy and now they are nothing. In that there is a lesson for you."
U.S. intelligence analysts have judged the tape to be authentic, an intelligence official said. Bin Laden speaks in a low voice; the sound quality is generally poor.
It is the first time since December 2004 that a recording of bin Laden's voice has surfaced. The intervening 13 months was the longest stretch of silence from bin Laden since before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
During that period, bin Laden's prominence in Islamic radical circles had been eclipsed by two other figures: his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian fighter and insurgent leader in Iraq.
Al-Zawahri, al-Qaeda's leading theoretician and political strategist, has released at least eight recorded statements in the past year, including an audiotape last September in which he sought to squash rumors that bin Laden was dead or incapacitated.
Al-Zarqawi, an occasional rival who has irked al-Qaeda's original leadership with some of his tactics, regularly releases statements on the Internet and asserted responsibility for orchestrating the hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan, last November.
Counterterrorism analysts said bin Laden was under pressure to demonstrate that he remained in control. "People like Zarqawi have been taking the spotlight from him," said Mustafa Alani, director of terrorism and security studies at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. "He's saying the mother organization is still alive and the leadership is still functioning."
U.S., European and Pakistani intelligence officials have said they believe bin Laden is hiding along the rugged border separating Afghanistan and Pakistan. Earlier this week, U.S. missiles struck a village on the Pakistani side in a failed effort to kill al-Zawahri. Pakistani officials have said that among those killed - reports range from 13 to 18 - were four or five senior al-Qaeda figures.
While some analysts said bin Laden's reluctance to make himself more visible could be a sign of health problems, his last videotape was aired in October 2004, days before the U.S. presidential election, others surmised that he was worried more about his security.
"Every audio or videotape is potentially traceable by intelligence services," said Paul Pillar, former deputy chief of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center and now a visiting professor at Georgetown University. "We hope they will make a mistake, but they are extra cautious."
A senior government counterterrorism official agreed that security was a factor behind the infrequent surfacings, adding that U.S. intelligence agencies believe he uses audio rather than videotapes because fewer people are needed to make and transport them.
"This tape was in the pipeline for a while, because they took their time to get where it could be aired," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the record. Whether for security or other reasons, the official said, bin Laden has largely delegated al-Zawahri, his second-in-command, "to be the public face" of al-Qaeda.
Al-Jazeera reported that the 10-minute tape was made in December, but the network did not offer specifics. The recording, however, contains a number of clues.
For instance, bin Laden refers to an alleged plot by the Bush administration to bomb Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar, which received coverage in British newspapers in late November. (The White House has denied any such plot.) He also mentions anti-war sentiment in public opinion polls and comments by Bush that it is better to fight terrorists abroad so Americans do not have to face them at home.
It is not the first time bin Laden has offered a truce. In April 2004, in a videotape released a few weeks after train bombings killed 191 people in Madrid, he promised European nations that al-Qaeda would "stop operations against any state which vows to stop attacking Muslims or interfere in their affairs."
Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and head of the Rand Corp.'s Washington office, said bin Laden's most recent message fits a pattern in which he makes his argument in a measured and reasoned tone rather than relying on the rhetoric of a radical. Although the words are addressed to Americans on the surface, he said, they are really intended to boost bin Laden's standing among Muslims.
"He's trying to appear statesmanlike rather than wild-eyed and fanatical," Hoffman said. "His most important audience is the Muslim world, demonstrating that he's still an important and compelling force to be reckoned with."
In offering a truce, bin Laden also sought to explain the absence of any follow-up attacks in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001. He suggested that al-Qaeda operatives have been preoccupied with the fighting in Iraq but warned that they had not lost sight of American targets. "The delay has not been because of failure to break through your security measures," he said. "The operations are under preparation and you will see them in your homes the minute they are ready."
A Department of Homeland Security spokesman, Russ Knocke, said there were no plans to raise the U.S. alert level, which now stands at "yellow," or "elevated," the middle of five stages.
Some analysts dismissed bin Laden's warning, saying he has repeatedly vowed to attack the United States again, without succeeding. But others said it was not for lack of trying and noted that previous bin Laden statements have been followed a few weeks later by attacks elsewhere in the world.
"The message is the kind of boastful propaganda we've heard before, but I wouldn't dismiss it as bluster," said Paul Wilkinson, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.-
Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA unit that is dedicated to hunting down bin Laden, said the vows should be taken seriously. "This is a worldwide and still very dangerous threat and is well within what he has said before," Scheuer said.

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