ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Al Qaeda was behind the deadly bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco and the terror network’s leader Usama bin Laden (search) is still alive, according to a masked militant’s videotaped message obtained by The Associated Press Saturday.
If it proves to be genuine, the video would be the first time Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the homicide attacks on foreign housing units in Riyadh (search) — which killed 26 people and nine attackers — and bombings in Casablanca, which killed 43 people and 12 attackers.
In the scratchy 35-minute video, a man is seen seated on a straw mat on the floor of a brick mud hut with a Kalashnikov assault rifle by his side as he reads from several sheets of paper. Since his face is covered by a black turban, it is impossible to confirm his identity.
Speaking in Arabic, the man identified himself as Abu Haris Abdul Hakim and said he speaks on behalf of Al Qaeda, the Taliban regime and the followers of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (search), an Afghan rebel leader whom the United States calls a terrorist and has tried to kill. During the Taliban rule, Hakim was known to speak in the name of Al Qaeda in interviews with the official news agency Bakhtar, run by the hard-line Islamic religious militia.
At one point, the man holds up a crudely written sign that says June 14th, apparently a reference to the date it was made — though it was impossible to confirm.
The videotape was obtained from a senior intelligence official in Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami organization. The official confirmed that the speaker on the tape was indeed Hakim speaking for Hekmatyar's party, which he said was working with Al Qaeda (search) and the Taliban.
The video appeared to reflect a growing alliance between three top opponents of the United States in Afghanistan. The White House declined to comment on the video Saturday.
The speaker in the tape says Al Qaeda is active and planning new attacks this month, saying, "Usama is alive and in Afghanistan." Though he suggests the attacks will take place in Afghanistan, he also points to wider operations.
"The recent attacks in Riyadh and Morocco were planned and they were part of our martyrdom operations. You will see more such attacks in the future," the speaker in the video said.
"Oh our brothers in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir and Iraq: We will have good news for you very soon. And it will be about our supremacy over the Americans. This will be in the shape of martyrdom (suicide) attacks against Americans in the current month," Hakim said.
Saudi and U.S. officials have blamed Al Qaeda for the Riyadh attacks. Moroccan authorities say an international terrorism ring carried out the Casablanca attacks, and they are looking at possible links to Al Qaeda.
Insurgents in Afghanistan have stepped up their attacks against U.S. forces in recent months. On Saturday, U.S. forces flooded into a region in northeastern Afghanistan, near the border, to stop infiltrators from Pakistan carrying out attacks.
The speaker said the coming attacks would mimic those carried out in the Afghan cities and towns of Kabul, Kandahar and Spinboldak. On June 7, an explosive-laden taxi rammed a bus carrying German peacekeepers in Kabul, killing four Germans and an Afghan civilian. In both Kandahar and Spinboldak there have been grenade assaults and remote controlled bombings.
"Our mujahedeen brothers are regrouping in Kunar, Khost, Gardez, Jalalabad, Kabul and Logar," the man on the videotape said, referring to parts of Afghanistan. "They are engaged in preparations for the attack."
In the last week, pamphlets recruiting Afghans for suicide bombings have been circulated in Afghanistan's southeastern regions. The pamphlets — signed by Mullah Akhtar Uzmani, the Taliban's former military chief and a key lieutenant of the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar — threatened a suicide bombing before the end of this month if three Afghan officials identified by name were not fired.
The speaker in the videotape said Al Qaeda and its allies were "alive and have started operations again. And very soon we will bring the Americans and their agents to justice."
The intelligence official who obtained the video said Al Qaeda, Taliban and Hekmatyar forces were working together but in most parts of the country they have separate commands.
In the northeastern regions of Afghanistan, Al Qaeda forces are commanded by Abu Ali Al Maliki, who fought with Hekmatyar against other Afghan factions during the 1992-96 civil war, according to the intelligence official.
The main Taliban figure in that region is Mullah Abdul Raouf, believed to be the former Taliban governor of Paktia province, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.