Bin Laden Purportedly Resurfaces with New Audio Warning

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Al Qaeda's leader resurfaces on the airwaves... or does he? Osama bin Laden has not been heard from for more than a year — now the Al-Jazeera television network is broadcasting an audiotape, purportedly of the reclusive terrorist leader, warning of further attacks against the United States. Madeleine Brand speaks with Jackie Northam about the tape and how U.S. intelligence officials are responding to it.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY to DAY, I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, a response to New Orleans' mayor Ray Nagin's comments about chocolate city.

BRAND: But first, the Arab satellite television network Al-Jazeera has aired an audiotape purportedly from al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden. The CIA has not yet confirmed whether the voice does belong to bin Laden, but if it is the al Qaeda leader, it'll be the first time he's released an audiotape in over a year.

The voice on this tape warns of new attacks against America. NPR's national security correspondent, Jackie Northam, has been following this story, and she's here now. Jackie, welcome back to DAY to DAY.

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

Thank you very much, Madeleine.

BRAND: So does the man identified as bin Laden give any details about these new attacks?

NORTHAM: No. Certainly not in any specific terms at all. He just says that operations are underway, that preparations for an attack are underway and that we will see them as soon as they are completed, but we have no sense of, you know, where they might take place, in what form they'll take place, or certainly, at what time they'll take place.

The other thing that he does say that's quite interesting as far as attacks are concerned is that the reason that there haven't been any more attacks since 9/11 when the planes flew into the World Trade Center etc., why we haven't seen anything else like that since is not because of the increased security concerns here in America that have, you know, obviously been stepped up since then but just the fact that there are preparations underway. They're just biding their time, essentially.

BRAND: And the man on the tape also makes an offer of a truce with the US. Tell us about that.

NORTHAM: Well, he called it a truce of fair conditions, and basically, he doesn't say what the parameters are for those conditions but essentially it's regarding rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan. He says that "We should come to some sort of truce with America so that we don't have to keep bleeding money into Iraq and killing Muslims on Iraqi soil." That was basically all he said, so on one side he said that there's going to be attack against Americans. On the other side, he says, "Well, we think that we can come to sort of truce." It's not very clear at this point. At the same time, Madeleine, we've only been able to hear about four excerpts from the full ten minute audio tape, and Al-Jazeera. That's all they've decided to put on the air right now. However, a full transcript is going to be made available later. We might get a lot more details about this.

BRAND: And we're just hearing about the tape today, but do we have any idea about when it was made?

NORTHAM: No, we don't have any idea. Al-Jazeera has said that there's a marker on in where it says that it was made in the Muslim month that is equivalent to December. Again, we don't know. We just don't have enough details at this point. We've had no verification from the CIA as well. There are some markers, though. He does talk about the slump in the poll ratings for President Bush. Now, that's been going on for several months now. He talks about, or he makes reference to the bombings in London, which took place in July, that sort of thing. But we simply have no idea when this was made.

A lot of the things that he talks about are quite generic, such as al Qaeda is winning the war on terrorism, that type of thing. But again, we simply don't know. You know, these tapes, when they're made, it's hard to say how long they sit on the shelf, and then they go through multiple carriers before they end up on the doorsteps of Al-Jazeera or other organizations like that, so it's up in the air at this point.

BRAND: And do we know how Al-Jazeera received the tape?

NORTHAM: Well, again, normally what happens is that they're sent down from wherever the tape was, and it goes through multiple mules you know, couriers, and dozens of them sometimes, and it ends up at Al-Jazeera's doorstep. They decide and other organizations get it as well, but it's really Al-Jazeera that decides to put, to broadcast these statements.

BRAND: And does the tape make any reference to the recent US air strikes in Pakistan?

NORTHAM: No, it doesn't, but that's interesting as far as the timing of getting this tape. It comes less than a week after this air strike in the northwestern province of Pakistan. Now, that air strike was targeting the second in command of al Qaeda, Ayman Al-Zawahri, and essentially it got four, at least four senior al Qaeda figures as well. So this tape has come up very quickly after that. It's possible there is some relation. It could also have been this tape was on its way down now.

BRAND: Okay. And we will be following this story closely. NPR's national security correspondent, Jackie Northam. Thanks a lot.

NORTHAM: Thank you.

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