/ 8 September 2007

Bin Laden says US is vulnerable

Osama bin Laden said in a new video marking the sixth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s September 11 attacks that the United States was vulnerable despite its military and economic power, but he made no specific threats.

In his first video appearance in almost three years, the al-Qaeda leader said US President George Bush was repeating the mistakes of the former Soviet Union by refusing to acknowledge losses in Iraq.

Bush said in Australia, ”The tape is a reminder of the dangerous world in which we live and it is a reminder that we must work together to protect our people.”

”I found it interesting that on the tape, Iraq was mentioned, which is a reminder that Iraq is a part of this war against extremists,” Bush told reporters in Sydney after a meeting with close ally Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The video shows bin Laden sitting at a table dressed in white and cream robes and wearing white headgear. Beneath him, a banner on the screen reads in English: ”A message from Sheikh Osama bin Laden to the American people.”

Bin Laden appears tired and sallow, although his beard is much shorter and darker than in his last appearance, when it was streaked with gray.

A US intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in Washington, ”Initial technical analysis suggests that the voice on the videotape is indeed that of Osama bin Laden.” The official said he had no analysis of the al-Qaeda leader’s physical appearance on the tape.

”Despite America being the greatest economic power and possessing the most powerful and modern military arsenal, and despite it spending on this war and its army more than the entire world spends on its armies, and being the major state influencing the world’s policies … 19 young men were able … to change the direction of its compass,” bin Laden said in the tape.

”The subject of the mujahideen has become an inseparable part of the speech of your leader and the effects and signs are not hidden. Since the 11th, many of America’s policies have come under the influence of the mujahideen.”

In a sign the almost 30-minute tape, acquired by Reuters Television from a web trawler in Europe, was made recently, bin Laden mentions new French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Bush said al-Qaeda was seeking to establish a safe haven in Iraq to launch attacks against the US and its allies.

”Therefore it’s important that we show resolve and determination to protect ourselves and deny al-Qaeda safe haven.”

Repeating mistakes

Bin Laden was last seen in a video statement issued on the eve of the November 2004 US presidential election. Since then, he has issued several audio messages, the last in July 2006 when he vowed al-Qaeda would fight the US worldwide.

Some intelligence officials and security analysts suggest bin Laden has limited his appearances to maximise their impact, perhaps saving his next one to coincide with a dramatic attack.

Others say bin Laden, aged 50 and believed to suffer from a serious kidney ailment, may be too sick or too tightly pinned down in his hiding place to smuggle out a tape.

US CIA director Michael Hayden said he had not seen the tape, but he said earlier in a New York speech that al-Qaeda had regained strength and its leadership continued to plot a ”high-impact” attack on the United States.

Asked after the speech if he believed bin Laden was alive, Hayden said, ”I have no reason to believe he’s not.”

US-led forces have been searching for bin Laden since they toppled Afghanistan’s Taliban government after it refused to hand over the mastermind of the September 11 attacks.

Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are believed to be hiding in the border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan, a mountainous, inaccessible region that US intelligence has described as a safe haven for al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

According to a transcript issued by US officials, bin Laden compares the US situation in Iraq with the Soviet Union’s operations in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

”The mistakes of Brezhnev are being repeated by Bush, who — when asked about the date of his withdrawing of force from Iraq — said in effect that the withdrawal will not be during his reign, but … that of the one who succeeds him,” bin Laden said. – Reuters