Published May 21, 2003
CAIRO, Egypt – An audiotape attributed to Usama bin Laden's top lieutenant on Wednesday called on Muslims to stage terrorist strikes against Jews, Americans and U.S. allies.
The Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera showed a still photograph of Ayman al-Zawahri wearing a white turban while a forceful speaker urged Muslims to draw inspiration from the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Consider your 19 brothers who attacked America in Washington and New York with their planes as an example," said the voice, speaking the classical Arabic typical of Al Qaeda statements and making the accent difficult to place. Children's voices could be heard in the background.
In Washington, U.S. intelligence analysts were reviewing the tape. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was plausible that the speaker was al-Zawahri but a thorough analysis was necessary to be certain.
In the tape, the speaker referred to protests ahead of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the early days of the war, a possible hint of when the recording was made.
"The protests, demonstrations and conferences won't work. Nothing will help you except carrying weapons and harming your enemies -- Americans and Jews," the voice said.
"Oh Muslims, take your decision against the embassies of America, England, Australia and Norway, their interests, their companies and their employees," the speaker said. "Turn the earth under their feet into fire."
Britain was the United States' main partner in the war on Iraq, and Australia contributed troops. Norway did not take part in Iraq but sent special forces and other support to U.S.-led fighting in Afghanistan that overthrew the Taliban and dislodged Al Qaeda.
The speaker also lashed out at Arab leaders for offering "airports and the facilities" to allied troops, an apparent reference to the U.S.-led war on Iraq.
"Here is Saudi Arabia, where planes are launched from their airports, from its lands. Here is Kuwait, where the heavy armies march from its lands. Here is Qatar, where the command of the campaign is based. Here is Bahrain, the command of the [U.S. Navy] Fifth Fleet remains inside it. Here is Egypt, the marine ships pass through its canal. Here is Yemen, the crusader ships are provided with fuel. Here is Jordan, where the crusader troops are present, and the batteries of the Patriot missiles are erected their to protect Israel."
Mohammed Salah, a Cairo-based journalist who has covered Al Qaeda and other militant groups for more than a decade for the Arab daily Al-Hayat, said he believed the voice was al-Zawahri's.
He said it appeared the tape was recorded during the war on Iraq, noting there was no reference to the fall of Baghdad, an event al-Zawahri would have been likely to mention. Al-Zawahri also did not mention recent terror attacks on Saudi Arabia and Morocco.
Al-Jazeera chief editor Ibrahim Hilal told The Associated Press the station received the tape Tuesday night but would not say how.
"The quality is not very good. It's an 11-minute tape and we've aired the most significant and the newsworthy parts," Hilal said.
Al-Jazeera aired 3 minutes of the tape and said that was all it would broadcast.
Secretary of State Colin Powell criticized the station, based in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, for playing excerpts of the tape. "All it does is heighten tensions throughout the region, allowing terrorists to have this kind of access to the airwaves," he told reporters in Washington.
He said he spoke earlier to the foreign minister of Qatar, which provides funding for the station. "I think they are taking some action," Powell told reporters, without specifying what action Washington wanted Qatar to take.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House asked the Qatari government to get Al-Jazeera to refrain from broadcasting Al Qaeda messages in full, fearing they might contain coded messages. Al-Jazeera, which has gained a reputation as an unusually independent voice in a region where many news media are government-controlled, says it only airs messages according to news value.
The whereabouts of al-Zawahri and bin Laden have been unclear since Al Qaeda was driven from Afghanistan. Al-Zawahri, a physician, has long been a fugitive -- he was convicted in absentia and sentenced to death in 1999 for his role in terrorist attacks inside and outside his homeland of Egypt.
Al-Zawahri leads a faction of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which worked with al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya, another Egyptian group, to assassinate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.
American intelligence officials have cited a tape that appeared in November as an indication bin Laden survived heavy U.S. bombing of his Afghan hideout after the Sept. 11 attacks and probably is with al-Zawahri in the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Al-Jazeera in February broadcast a purported bin Laden audiotape in which a speaker called on Iraqis to carry out suicide attacks against Americans and defend themselves against a U.S. attack.
The speaker called on Muslims to rise up against Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, "regimes who are slaves of America." U.S. counterterrorism officials in Washington said that it was probably a real recording of bin Laden.
The last public statement attributed to al-Zawahri was in February, in an online militant newsletter calling on Muslims to respond to oppression with violence.
The last audiotape purportedly from al-Zawahri surfaced in October 2002. A U.S. official said then that the tape, in which al-Zawahri threatens new attacks on the United States, appeared to have been recorded weeks earlier and seemed genuine.