Published July 22, 2002
Watching a jolly Usama bin Laden chortle on videotape about the deaths of 3,000 people at the World Trade Center and Pentagon — and seeing him admit that he knew in advance of the suicide hijackings — was more than many Americans could stomach.
But skeptics abroad remained unconvinced on Friday that bin Laden did anything more than express pleasure at the success of the Sept. 11 attacks.
A man who was in the World Trade Center when the planes hit on Sept. 11 said he wanted to smash his TV screen. A victim's father kept changing the channel, trying to get rid of the face on the screen. Said a Marine in California, "He needs to be taken out."
"It makes me so mad. He sat there, feeding his fat self and laughing," said Trish Bergamo, a bartender in Boston.
In San Diego, Marine Lance Cpl. Tate Parmer said he and his colleagues never doubted bin Laden was responsible for the attacks.
"I figured it was him all along," said Parmer, 30, of Salt Lake City, a military policeman at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. "He's an evil man. He definitely needs to be taken out."
The father of a Sept. 11 victim said he wished the tape had not been made public.
"Whenever I saw it on television I changed the channel," said Anthony Gambale, whose daughter, Giovanna, was killed at the World Trade Center.
"It should be filed away and let the government and the CIA take care of it," Gambale said from his home in New York City. "Let everybody rest in peace. Let us get on with our lives."
Not Everyone's Convinced
But world opinion was not unanimous in condemning bin Laden as a terrorist murderer.
"This does not prove that bin Laden was responsible for the Sept. 11 attack; maybe it reflects wishful thinking for what had happened or praising the attacks," political analyst Labib Kamhawi said in Jordan.
In Milan, Italy, the leader of one mosque voiced doubts likely to be echoed among others immune to persuasion. "I had the sensation that it wasn't bin Laden," said Ali Abu Shawa. "Maybe it was a stand-in, or an actor."
"Of course it is fabricated," said Dia'a Rashwan, a Cairo-based expert on Islamic movements, as he watched the tape on the Qatari satellite channel Al-Jazeera.
"If this is the kind of evidence that America has, then the blood of thousands who died and were injured in Afghanistan is on [President] Bush's head," he said.
In Pakistan, the chief government spokesman, Gen. Rashid Quereshi, said the sight of bin Laden praising the suicide attacks and saying the destruction exceeded his estimates proved that Islamabad had made the "the right decision" in supporting Washington.
"By boasting about his involvement in the evil attacks, bin Laden confirms his guilt," said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. "This totally vindicates the action that we, the U.S. and the international coalition have taken in Afghanistan."
Samir Rantisi, a senior adviser of the Palestinian Ministry of Information, said the tape proved that bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network were solely responsible and should end any speculation that Palestinians had been involved.
Elsewhere, the governments of Canada and Israel also praised the release of the video, with Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, condemning bin Laden for laughing and rejoicing over the deadly deeds.
Fears Among American Muslims
Sarah Eltantawi, communications director for the Washington-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, said the council shared the view that bin Laden masterminded the attacks. But she worried that release of the tape would stir up anti-Muslim sentiment among some Americans.
"The harassment has calmed down since the immediate aftermath of the attacks," she said. "But whenever there is a new alert, we see a jump in hate crimes. We worry about the releases of tapes like this."
In Dearborn, Mich., home to an estimated 20,000 Arab-Americans, Lebanese-born Lamia Hazimy, 32, struggled to understand the conversation on the tape, but said it proved bin Laden's guilt.
"I don't know much about bin Laden, but I know I do not like him," she said.
Imad Hamad, director of the Dearborn regional office of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said the U.S. government translation on the tape seemed accurate.
"It's clear in the tape that he had the prior knowledge," Hamad said of bin Laden. "And he was happy about it. This is insane."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group, said several aspects of the tape were "particularly disturbing."
"Bin Laden seemed to revel in the death and destruction," a council statement said. "He made the sickening statement that the attacks 'benefited Islam greatly."'
'I'm Very Much in Favor of Letting Him Rot'
Mark Finelli, an investment banker from Tucson, Ariz., was on the 61st floor of one of the trade center towers on Sept. 11. Though unsurprised by the tape, Finelli, 25, said it made him feel "very violent and enraged. ... I just wanted to punch the screen."
"I'm a very strong supporter of capital punishment, but in this case, with someone who wants to die, I'm very much in favor of letting him rot."
In New York City, scores of people gathered on the sidewalk in Times Square to watch the tape.
"I can't believe they're actually praising their god for this," said David Castellano, 27, a computer technician from Brooklyn. "They seem overjoyed by the fact that it was a worse tragedy than they anticipated."
In Indianapolis, firefighters at Station No. 13 said the tape reinforced their feelings on how to deal with bin Laden.
"He's just admitting to it and boasting," said Matt Hahn, 30. "What we're all looking for now is a swift, stern, exact punishment."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.