Top Al Qaeda Official Criticizes U.S. in New Tape

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Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera is airing a new videotape of Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda's No. 2 official. Al-Zawahri echoes points made by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a tape broadcast about a week ago. The tape comes after a U.S. air strike targeting al Qaeda in Pakistan earlier this month.


You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News. Al-Jazeera is broadcasting a new videotape of Ayman al-Zawahri, the number two man in al-Qaeda. The Arab satellite network broadcast two short segments. In them al-Zawahri echoed many of the same points made in a tape from Osama bin Laden just over a week ago. As NPR's Jackie Northam reports, some analysts say the timing of this tape is more important than its content.

JACKIE NORTHAM, reporting:

The videotape has a polished look as though recorded in a high-end production house. Al-Zawahri is wearing plain white robes and a turban. The studio lighting carefully accentuates his face and a plain black background doesn't distract from his words.

Mr. AYMAN AL-ZAWAHRI (al-Qaeda): (Through Translator) Bush, do you know where I am. I am in the midst of the Moslem masses enjoying their support, care, generosity and protection, which are manifestations of God's grace extended to me.

NORTHAM: On the tape al-Zawahri calls President Bush a butcher and says he's wasting American lives and money in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he calls President Bush a failure because a U.S. air strike in a remote region of Pakistan on January 13th failed to kill al-Zawahri. And that's the point he wants to make says Ibrahim Karawan, director of the Middle East Center at the University of Utah.

Mr. IBRAHIM KARAWAN (Middle East Center, University of Utah): It is more symbolic in showing that he is alive and that the U.S. might and military machine could not get him even though they wanted to and tried. I think that he wants to show that he could have waited but he appeared quickly to show that he was beyond reach of the U.S. and that he survived.

NORTHAM: Counter terrorism officials scrutinize every detail of the al-Qaeda tape for any possible information. On this tape al-Zawahri makes reference to a recent audiotape by Bin Laden. Normally tapes by both men are passed through many couriers and take weeks to get from the place they were made to a broadcasters doorstep. Kenneth Katzman, an analyst for Middle East policy at the Congressional Research Service says it is astonishing how fast this tape appeared.

Mr. KENNETH KATZMAN: We're talking about maybe ten days between an event, which was the last Bin Laden tape, and this tape and that certainly suggests that there is a fairly developed infrastructure now for making these tapes and getting them out to be distributed by Al-Jazeera.

NORTHAM: Beyond clues about location, intelligence services also look to these tapes to gauge the state of the terrorist network itself. On the tape al-Zawahri chastises the U.S. for not accepting Bin Laden's offer of a truce. The U.S. has ruled out any talk of a truce with the terrorist network. Katzman says al-Zawahri is trying to promote the idea that al-Qaeda is being responsible while the U.S. is not.

KENNETH KATZMAN: Some have said maybe they are looking for some sort of negotiation. Maybe they want to try to gain some sympathy in the Arab world for their position and try to convince people that they have a broader agenda more in line with traditional Arab approaches and that they should not be seen as purely interested in violence.

NORTHAM: And there are some questions that are left to guess work. Are the two al-Qaeda leaders together? Is al-Zawahri in a more urban setting and do they still have full command and control of the terrorist network.

Jackie Northam NPR News, Washington.

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