Bin Laden Tape Urges Support for Sudan
A newly released audiotape attributed to Osama bin Laden urges Muslims to prepare for a long war in Sudan and attacks the U.S. and European cutoff of aid to the Palestinian government, now controlled by the militant group Hamas, as proof of “a Zionist-crusaders’ war on Islam.”
The tape, broadcast Sunday by the Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera, is the first reported message from the Al Qaeda leader since January.
The White House said Sunday afternoon that U.S. intelligence officials believed the tape was authentic.
In his last message, on Jan. 19, Bin Laden said Al Qaeda was preparing attacks against Americans but offered a truce, without spelling out the conditions.
In the new tape, however, he said members of the Western public shared responsibility for the actions of their governments because they “are renewing their allegiance to its rulers and master” -- an apparent implication that civilians could be targeted.
Peter Bergen, an expert on Bin Laden and one of the few Westerners who have interviewed him, said in an interview that the subject matter of the latest communication was “not particularly interesting. The real message is, ‘I’m alive.’ ”
But because Bin Laden retains much symbolic power within militant groups and a wider circle of sympathizers, the new tape is likely to provoke some response and reaction, said Bergen, author of the recently published book “The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of Al Qaeda’s Leader.”
“There is some cause and effect,” he said.
President Bush was informed of the tape about 6:30 a.m., White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said.
“The Al Qaeda leadership is on the run and under a lot of pressure,” McClellan told reporters traveling with the president in California.
Leading senators from both parties criticized the administration Sunday for its failure to track down Bin Laden.
“Frankly, I’m very dissatisfied that we haven’t brought him to justice, and I think it has to be a top priority,” Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told “Late Edition.” “But one day, we’ll catch him.”
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, charged on the same program that the administration “took its eye off the ball when President Bush decided to go after Iraq instead of Al Qaeda, the people who had attacked us on 9/11, and their leader Bin Laden.”
Bin Laden’s comments on the violent refugee crisis in Sudan were his first on the fighting in that country, which was his home from 1992 to 1996, when he was expelled under U.S. pressure and moved his base to Afghanistan.
Bin Laden was harbored by the Sudanese government during the period in which he plotted the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Those attacks killed more than 220 people and injured about 4,000.
More than 180,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in Darfur, in western Sudan, as Arab militias have fought African tribal rebels. Negotiators are trying to broker a truce, and United Nations peacekeepers may be sent there.
Last year, an accord ended a decades-long civil war between the Arab-Muslim rulers and predominantly Christian and animist rebels.
Bin Laden contended that the West was trying to divide the country.
“Our goal is not defending the Khartoum government but to defend Islam, its land and its people,” Bin Laden said on the tape, according to Al Jazeera’s English-language website.
Media in the Middle East have reported recently that Al Qaeda is trying to organize in Sudan, as well as in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Lebanon.
There are no overt connections between Al Qaeda and Hamas, and the organization quickly distanced itself from Bin Laden’s comments.
“The ideology of Hamas is totally different from the ideology of Sheik bin Laden,” spokesman Sami abu Zuhri told the Associated Press.
Bin Laden has cited the Palestinian struggle against Israel in the past, but Hamas leaders have said they are fighting only Israel and are not part of the global Islamic radical movement.
The Hamas spokesman said his group was interested in good relations with the West, AP reported.
Times staff writer Josh Meyer contributed to this report.