Latest Osama tape raises eyebrows

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden  

Washington Nov. 13. The Bush administration has not officially commented on the latest audiotape recording of Osama bin Laden (which was aired by the Qatar based al-Jazeera TV channel on Tuesday); but unnamed officials with access to intelligence matters have been quoted as saying that the voice on the tape `sounds' like Osama.

The tape, among other things, is being analysed and scrutinised in the intelligence community for voice, pattern and word usage, it is said.

If the tape is found to be authentic, this will be the first time conclusive evidence has been found that the Saudi born fugitive is alive since the time the United States started massive bombing runs over Afghanistan last year.

What is being pointed out is that several audio and video tapes and hand written messages have surfaced in the last several months; but all these had put the place at somewhere in southern Afghanistan and with a November-December 2001 time frame.

The latest has references to the Bali nightclub bombing last month, the attack on the French tanker, the attack on a Russian theatre by Chechen rebels and the shooting of an American marine in Kuwait during exercises.

There has been a quiet debate of sorts within the intelligence community here on the whereabouts of Osama with some taking the position that the most wanted terrorist is dead — following the bombings of the Tora Bora cave complex, a result of illness or in a combination of both.

Those who believe that Osama is alive base that on a supposition that he might have fled Afghanistan just before the American operations began.

In fact there is a strong suspicion that Osama might be holding out inside Pakistan or somewhere on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border; and being well taken care of by tribal leaders in that part of the world. The Pakistani leader, Pervez Musharraf, has constantly denied the possibility of Osama being in his country.

The U.S. President, George W Bush, has refused to speculate on the whereabouts of Osama. "If he's alive, we'll get him. If he's dead, we got him'', has been one of Mr. Bush's refrains.

More attacks threatened

Hasan Suroor reports from London

In the al-Jazeera broadcast, Osama praised the Bali outrage and threatened more attacks on western targets.

The Independent had a `source' saying "it's him, he's alive.'' The tape, said to be in the sort of "literary Arabic'' Osama used in the past, hails the attacks in Bali and the recent Chechen siege of a theatre in Moscow describing them as "only a reaction to what Bush, the pharoah of the age, is doing by killing our sons in Iraq and what America's ally Israel is doing, bombarding houses with women and old people and children inside with US planes...'' The voice on the tape warns that the message is directed at American allies, including Britain, darkly reminding them of what happened to Australians in Bali.

"We had warned Australia about its participation in Afghanistan. It ignored the warning until it woke up to the sound of explosions in Bali,'' it says calling the White House "a gang of butchers''. But it does not claim responsibility for either the Bali blast or the hostage incident in Moscow.

Commentators said if the tape was genuine and Osama was indeed still alive, it would be a "huge embarrassment'' for Washington.

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