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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Osama bin Laden has broken his more than year-long silence. The Arab satellite television network Al-Jazeera has broadcast an audio tape of a new message from the al Qaeda leader. The CIA has authenticated the tape.

And, as NPR's National Security Correspondent Jackie Northam reports, the recording is raising speculation about the reasons for the new statement, and the timing.

JACKIE NORTHAM: The quality of the ten-minute audiotape is poor, but above the hiss and the rumble, you can hear the haunting voice of Osama bin Laden.

(SOUNDBITE OF OSAMA BIN LADEN SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

NORTHAM: On the tape, bin Laden says he is directing his message to the American people, and he warns them that they are being misled by the Bush administration. Bin Laden goes on to say the reason there hasn't been another large attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 is not because of increased security measures here, but because al Qaeda has been preparing for another attack, one that could come soon. The Department of Homeland Security says there are no immediate plans to raise the national terror alert.

Despite his threat to attack America, bin Laden also offered the U.S. a conditional truce to help build Iraq and Afghanistan. He didn't say what the conditions were. White House spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed any notion of a truce with bin Laden.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN: We do not negotiate with terrorists. We put them out of business. The terrorists started this war, and the president made it clear that we will end it at a time and place of our choosing.

NORTHAM: Al-Jazeera would not say when or where the tape was received. Counterterrorism officials say that normally the tape would go through a series of couriers before it reaches a broadcaster. There's much speculation as to when the tape was made. Al-Jazeera said the tape was dated in the Muslim month that corresponds to December.

There are other time markers. Bin Laden talks about a slump in the polls for President Bush, something that's been going on now for several months. And he makes indirect references to bombings in Europe, such as the July attacks on London's transit system. But bin Laden doesn't make any mention of last week's U.S. air strike, purportedly against senior al Qaeda officials, in a remote area of northwestern Pakistan.

The timing of the audiotape's release is also interesting, says Daniel Byman of Georgetown University.

DANIEL L: One possible reason for now is that the Iraq cause has come to dominate the international jihadist movement and that he is trying to assert some direction over this and also assert some identity with it, so people who want to join the jihadist movement will be thinking of him rather than thinking of possible rival leaders.

NORTHAM: Byman says one of the main potential rivals is Abumusab al-Zarkowi, the leader of the al Qaeda operations in Iraq. He says Zarkowi's view of jihad is pitting Shiite Muslims against Sunnis, whereas bin Laden sees it as a fight against the United States and its allies. Byman says that could be another reason to release a tape right now.

BYMAN: It's also a way of showing continued defiance to the United States. One way terrorists win is simply by surviving in the face of consistent pressure, and bin Laden's survival despite years of a U.S. manhunt is a form of victory for the terrorist organization.

NORTHAM: But al Qaeda has been severely disrupted since the 9/11 attacks. Many senior officials have been arrested or killed. White House officials say that bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders are clearly on the run, and that they will be pursued until they're caught. Counterterrorism officials say today's audiotape offers few, if any, clues as to where to find them.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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