WASHINGTON – Usama bin Laden is alive.
That's the conclusion of U.S. intelligence analysts who said Monday they have determined that an audiotape that surfaced last week was the voice of the international terror mastermind.
The tape, broadcast by the Al-Jazeera satellite TV network, was recently recorded and does not appear altered or edited, said a U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
It is what it sounds like: bin Laden himself, reading a prepared statement promising new terrorism against the United States and its allies. The technical analysis of the tape furnished the first proof in almost a year that the Al Qaeda leader is still alive.
The analysis of the tape was performed by technical experts, linguists and translators at the CIA and National Security Agency, who compared the message to previous recordings of bin Laden. While no analysis is 100-percent certain, the experts are as certain as they can be that it is genuine, the official said.
Because it mentions recent terrorist attacks, officials concluded the tape was made in the last few weeks, the official said. It had been a year since U.S. intelligence received any definitive evidence that bin Laden had survived the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan in the months after Sept. 11.
The tape gives little clue to bin Laden's location or his health, officials said. Although his whereabouts are unknown, U.S. officials believe he is probably hiding in a remote mountainous region in the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. An Al-Jazeera reporter said he was handed the tape in Pakistan.
The message was a determining factor in a new spate of terror alerts in the United States and elsewhere last week. Previous public statements from bin Laden have served as preludes to terrorist attacks, officials said.
President Bush said last week that whoever released the tape was "putting the world on notice yet again that we're at war."
The speaker on the tape appears to refer to the killing of a U.S. diplomat in Amman, Jordan, on Oct. 28, the most recent event noted in the transcript. Whether bin Laden or Al Qaeda had a direct hand in the attack is unknown, U.S. officials said.
The speaker also praises several more terror attacks by suspected Islamic militants between April and October, including the bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, on Oct. 12 that left close to 200 people dead, and the Chechen takeover of a theater in Moscow late last month.
Previously, the last certain evidence bin Laden was alive was recorded on Nov. 9, 2001, when he had dinner with his chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, his spokesman and others. A videotape of the meal was recovered by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and later aired internationally.
Late in December, another tape of bin Laden giving a statement aired. He appeared gaunt and possibly wounded. The references in the tape suggested it was filmed in late November or early December, but officials could not be certain.
On Dec. 10, in the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan where bin Laden was believed to be hiding, U.S. personnel intercepted a radio transmission that was believed to have come from the Al Qaeda leader. But it was not recorded and never matched against his voiceprint, U.S. officials have said.
U.S. intelligence has confirmed several tapes released earlier in 2002 to have come from bin Laden, who is accused of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington that left 3,000 people dead. However, those tapes gave no reference to recent events and provided no confirmation of whether the Al Qaeda leader was still alive.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.