ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A journalist with an Arab TV station that broadcast a purported Usama bin Laden audiotape said Wednesday he received the recording in Pakistan from an agent of the Al Qaeda leader.
Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan of Al-Jazeera TV said the bin Laden emissary contacted him by phone Tuesday and asked to meet in Islamabad that night. Zaidan would not say where they met in the Pakistani capital.
The man's face was partially concealed, but he appeared to be the same person who handed Zaidan another tape two months ago, also purportedly made by bin Laden, the journalist said, refusing to be more specific about the man's appearance.
Zaidan said the man would not answer any questions about the tape. All he said was, "This is from bin Laden," Zaidan said.
"He only gave me the cassette, and in half a minute he disappeared," the journalist added.
Zaidan said that as he hurried back to his car to listen to the tape, he failed to notice where the man went.
"According to my knowledge, I'm the only one who got the tape," Zaidan said.
Al-Jazeera confirmed Wednesday that Zaidan provided the tape to the Qatar-based network.
The tape, aired across the Arab world Tuesday, praised the October terrorist strikes in Moscow and Bali, Indonesia, and warned U.S. allies to back away from plans to attack Iraq.
In Washington, a U.S. official familiar with the recording said the voice on the tape is probably bin Laden's. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
The source said officials are treating the tape as new evidence the long-absent Al Qaeda leader is alive.
The Bush administration had been saying for months it did not know whether bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks, was dead or alive.
Pakistan is widely believed to be the new home of many Al Qaeda members who operated in Afghanistan before a U.S.-led campaign destroyed their bases and toppled the Taliban, the Islamic regime that gave them refuge.
While Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, has banned several militant groups, many of their followers still travel freely in Pakistan and are considered Al Qaeda allies.