Audio Recording Attributed to Bin Laden Surfaces

The Al-Jazeera network broadcasts an audio recording said to be a new pronouncement by Osama bin Laden. The tape calls on al-Qaida followers to defend Islam in the Darfur region of Sudan and in Israel. Rami Khouri of Beirut's Daily Star newspaper discusses the tape with Debbie Elliott.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott. Osama bin Laden is in the news again today. An audio tape, reported to be by bin Laden, was aired today by Al-Jazeera, the Arabic language news service.

(Soundbite of man speaking foreign language)

ELLIOTT: White House Spokesman Scott McClellan says the intelligence community believes the voice is that of the al-Qaida leader. McClellan downplayed the message, telling reporters that al-Qaida and its leaders are on the run and under pressure. It is the first new message from bin Laden in three months. Rami Khouri is the editor-at-large of the Daily Star in Beirut. He joins me now to talk about bin Laden's latest message. Welcome.

Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Daily Star, Beirut): Thank you.

ELLIOTT: Assuming this really is Osama bin Laden, what did he have to say?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, he had more or less to say the same things he's been saying for some years now. His message is actually quite consistent. He's been focusing on several themes: the main one is to fight a defensive Jihad to protect what he calls the Islamic Realm and the lands of Islam and Muslims, and he talked about Darfur and Sudan this time. He talks about Palestine and Hamas, the pressure that the U.S. and Europe and the Israelis and others are putting on the elected Palestinian government, and he does this consistently.

He tries to push buttons and to try to get public opinion basically to rally around to his cause. And I think you have to understand that bin Laden is basically fighting two battles: one, he is fighting a battle against what he calls the crusaders and the Zionists, meaning Israel and the U.S. and the West, and he's fighting a battle against mainstream Islamist and Muslim politicians and leaders in the Arab Islamic world. That's really the more important battle in the long run, I think.

ELLIOTT: Where is his influence?

Mr. KHOURI: His influence is among radical, mostly young people, disenchanted people, people who've maybe tried peaceful politics and have felt disappointed and people who feel very strongly that the Islamic realm is under threat. And this is very interesting, because we know from public opinion surveys, very credible public opinion surveys, American and Middle Eastern ones, we know that public opinion in this region and the Arab world, it feels that Islamic societies are vulnerable and are being actually threatened by the U.S. and by the Western world in general and this sentiment increased with the cartoon controversy that happened with Denmark, Norway and others in Europe recently.

So there is a sense of vulnerability and victimization among many people in this region. Whether it's right or wrong, it's there and bin Laden plays on this.

ELLIOTT: Bin Laden called on al-Qaida to support Hamas. How has Hamas responded?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, today, as in a previous occasion, recently, Hamas very quickly and publicly distanced itself from the bin Laden line, saying that they have their ideology and Hamas and the Palestinians have their own ideology and they're very different and they don't meet.

ELLIOTT: Rami Khouri is editor-at-large of the Daily Star in Beirut. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. KHOURI: Thanks for having me.

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