CAIRO, Egypt – A strikingly pale and gaunt Usama bin Laden hailed the Sept. 11 attacks that killed thousands of Americans as "a blessed terrorism" in a videotape broadcast in its entirety Thursday on an Arabic satellite channel.
Bin Laden, his beard gone mostly white, praised the hijackers who commandeered American airliners and plowed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as the terrorists behind the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in which 231 people were killed, including 12 Americans. The U.S. has called bin Laden the prime suspect in each of those attacks.
Standing in a camouflage jacket before a brown background and with a machine gun propped to his right, bin Laden smiled occasionally as he said:
"Our terrorism is against America. Our terrorism is a blessed terrorism to prevent the unjust person from committing injustice and to stop American support for Israel, which kills our sons."
Bin Laden said the Sept. 11 attacks were in response to "the continuing oppression inflicted on our children in Palestine, Iraq, Somalia and southern Sudan."
Excerpts of the tape were shown Wednesday and Thursday on the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news channel. The cable network broadcast the entire 33-minute tape on Thursday night.
The Arabic-language video cast little doubt on bin Laden's responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks and the 1998 embassy bombings.
Bin Laden's statements suggested the tape was made in the first half of December.
He said he was speaking "three months after the blessed attack against the international infidels and their leaders, the United States, and two months after the beginning of the vicious aggression against Islam," apparent references to Sept. 11 and to the Oct. 7 start of U.S. retaliatory bombing of Afghanistan.
The terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks were "only 19 secondary school students, may God accept them, who shook America, struck the American economy in the heart and hit the biggest military force at its heart with God's help," bin Laden said in the video.
The Al Qaeda leader also called for attacks against the U.S. economy.
"It is important to concentrate on the destruction of the American economy" so the United States will be too busy to bother with Islamic fighters, bin Laden said. "This economic hemorrhaging continues until today, but requires more blows. And the youth should try to find the joints of the American economy and hit the enemy in these joints, with God's permission."
In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the tape "nothing more than the same kind of terrorist propaganda we've heard before." He said he did not know whether government analysts had determined when the tape was made, or whether it indicates bin Laden is injured.
Analysts noted that bin Laden, who is lefthanded, moved only his right arm on the videotape, but it wasn't clear if he avoided using that hand because of a problem or injury. Islam considers the right hand more blessed, and left-handed gestures can be considered less proper. Bin Laden often has been shown gesturing with his right hand.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said experts would examine the videotape for any valuable intelligence information on bin Laden.
"He is either in Afghanistan, or some other country or dead," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. "We hear six, seven, eight, 10, 12 conflicting reports every day" on bin Laden's location.
Rumsfeld added that he hoped people watching would not believe what bin Laden says. "Here's a man who has killed thousands of innocent people, so using him as the oracle of all truth clearly would be a mistake," Rumsfeld said. "He has lied repeatedly over and over again. He has hijacked a religion. He has hidden and cowered in caves and tunnels while sending people off to die."
In the videotape, bin Laden tells his followers that the United States' War on Terror is actually a war on Muslims.
"It is quite clear now," he says, "that the West, generally speaking, and in particular America, has an indescribable hatred of Islam. The people who have lived the last months under the continual American air strikes, they know that very well. Many villages were wiped out for no crime and many millions were displaced in this cold weather."
He also likened the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan to terrorism.
"In Nairobi, when the boys — may God take them as martyrs — used a 2,000-kilo (4,400-pound) bomb, the U.S. said this was terrorism, that this was a weapon of mass destruction. And now the U.S. is using two bombs, each weighing 7,000 kilos (15,500 pounds). No one is questioning this."
Meanwhile, U.S. forces continue to hunt for bin Laden in the caves of the mountainous Tora Bora area of eastern Afghanistan.
Bin Laden's Al Qaeda fighters made their last stand there, making the location a primary search area. But for weeks, U.S. officials say, they have had no indication of where bin Laden might be — in Tora Bora, elsewhere in Afghanistan, fleeing across Pakistan or even dead.
Aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, which is launching airstrikes on bin Laden's suspected hideouts from the Arabian Sea, the crew watched footage aired by CNN in ship lounges, mess halls and work spaces.
"It is clearly propaganda aimed at trying to show that America is anti-Islamic," Lt. John Oliveira, the ship's spokesman, said. "I think over the last three months of this campaign, the United States has shown it is not anti-Islamic. We are anti-terrorism."
Afghanistan's new prime minister, Hamid Karzai, said Wednesday he had no idea where bin Laden was. Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said in China recently he was "reasonably sure" bin Laden had been killed by U.S. bombs at Tora Bora. On Thursday, a spokesman for Afghanistan's defense ministry said bin Laden was being sheltered by allies in Pakistan.
In a tape that the Pentagon says was found in Afghanistan and dated Nov. 9, a smug, unscripted bin Laden is shown telling a visitor details of the Sept. 11 attacks and indicating he was involved in their planning.
U.S. officials, who said that tape was a virtual confession, released it Dec. 13 and it was shown around the world. Many Arab viewers, where bin Laden has struck a chord with his denunciations of the United States for its support of Israel and its alleged enmity toward Islam, questioned whether the poorly made tape was a hoax.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.