CAIRO, Egypt — An Arab TV station broadcast an audiotape Tuesday of a voice that a U.S. official said sounded like Osama bin Laden’s. If confirmed, it would provide hard evidence that the al-Qaida leader was alive as recently as last month.
The speaker, identified by al-Jazeera television as bin Laden and aired across the Arab world, praised the October terrorist strikes in Bali and Moscow, and warned U.S. allies to back away from plans to attack Iraq.
U.S. officials say they have not been able to verify bin Laden’s whereabouts this year. The last certain evidence he was alive came in a videotape of him having dinner with some of his deputies, which is believed to have been filmed on Nov. 9, 2001.
In a rambling statement, the speaker referred to the Oct. 12 Bali bombings “that killed the British and Australians,” the slaying last month of a Marine in Kuwait, the bombing of a French oil tanker last month off Yemen and “Moscow’s latest operation “ — a hostage-taking by Chechen rebels.
The audiotape was aired alongside an old photograph of the al-Qaida leader but there was no new video of him, and the official in Washington said further technical analysis was needed. Al-Jazeera said it received the tape on the day it was broadcast.
Speaking in a literary style of Arabic favored by bin Laden, the voice said the attacks were “carried out by the zealous sons of Islam in defense of their religion,” and that they were a reaction to what ”(President) Bush, the pharaoh of this age, was doing in terms of killing our sons in Iraq, and what Israel, the United States’ ally, was doing in terms of bombing houses that shelter old people, women and children.”
“Our kinfolk in Palestine have been slain and severely tortured for nearly a century,” the speaker said. “If we defend our people in Palestine, the world becomes agitated and allies itself against Muslims, unjustly and falsely, under the pretense of fighting terrorism.”
The speaker then castigated U.S. allies that have joined the war against terrorism, specifically Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany and Australia.
After listing those countries, he warned: “If you were distressed by the deaths of your men ... remember our children who are killed in Palestine and Iraq everyday.”
“What do your governments want by allying themselves with the criminal gang in the White House against Muslims? Do your governments not know that the White House gangsters are the biggest butchers of this age?
In Washington, intelligence officials were evaluating the tape.
“It does sound like bin Laden’s voice,” said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We have to complete the technical analysis,” the official said.
Audio recordings are easier to make than videotapes which could reveal whether bin Laden is injured, has significantly altered his looks, or is in a vulnerable location that could be given away in a video appearance.
In September, the Al-Jazeera network aired voice recordings attributed to bin Laden and top al-Qaida operatives. The CIA authenticated bin Laden’s voice then, but officials said the recordings probably weren’t made recently.
Those statements came out around the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the start of the war in Afghanistan.
Al-Qaida operatives thought to be alive because of their recent recordings include bin Laden’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, and his spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith.
In the al-Zawahri recording, obtained by Associated Press Television News in early October, he spoke about Iraq, accused Washington of seeking to subjugate the Arab world on behalf of Israel — America’s strongest supporter in the region — and tried to assure followers that bin Laden was alive and well.
Experts say bin Laden’s al-Qaida network is on a renewed public relations campaign aimed at keeping itself in the public eye and associated with events, such as a possible war in Iraq, which could turn the Arab public against the United States.