After a summer of silence, al-Qaida leaders are back on the Mideast air waves, framing their latest anti-American message around a possible war with Iraq.
Experts say the terrorist network is on a renewed public relations campaign aimed at keeping itself in the public eye and associated with events which could turn the Arab public against the United States.
U.S. counterterrorism officials believe the tapes — coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan — are a sign of al-Qaida’s leadership asserting it is still viable to its rank-and-file followers.
The recent taped statements prompted the FBI to issue a new warning to state and local law enforcement agencies that a new al-Qaida attack on the United States has been approved by the terror network’s leadership. But the agency said it did not have any specific information detailing where and when an attack may occur.
On Thursday, the State Department followed suit, issuing a worldwide caution to Americans abroad to alert them to “the continuing threat of terrorist actions that may target civilians.”
Last month, the al-Jazeera network aired voice recordings of Osama bin Laden and top al-Qaida operatives. The CIA authenticated bin Laden’s voice, but officials said the recordings probably weren’t made recently.
U.S. officials have not verified bin Laden’s whereabouts this year and say a previously aired videotape of him having dinner with his associates in early November in Afghanistan is the last absolutely certain sign he was alive.
Those thought to be alive because of their recent recordings include bin Laden’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, and his spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith.
A U.S. official said this week that a recent recording from al-Zawahri appears to be genuine and made in the last few weeks.
The recording, obtained by Associated Press Television News, was produced by a shadowy production company behind previous al-Qaida videotape. But the format of the al-Zawahri recording is entirely different from the videos released in April which were crude, 30-minute compilations of violent images strung together with Quranic verses and old footage of bin Laden.
The latest disc features snapshots of al-Zawahri and news footage of anti-American protests while he is heard answering an interviewer’s questions about America’s aims in the region and its future.
The interview runs for a brief five minutes and ends abruptly with the juxtaposition of two images: the collapse of the World Trade Center and Israeli bulldozers destroying a Palestinian home.
Speaking about Iraq, he accused Washington of seeking to subjugate the Arab world on behalf of Israel — America’s strongest supporter in the region.
“The campaign against Iraq has aims that go beyond Iraq into the Arab Islamic world,” al-Zawahri is heard saying. “Its first aim is to destroy any effective military force in the proximity of Israel. Its second aim is to consolidate the supremacy of Israel.”