Osama bin Laden injected himself into the final days of the U.S. presidential campaign, warning that American voters will be held accountable for electing any president who seeks to destroy al Qaeda and persecutes Muslims.
"Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda," bin Laden, looking thinner but healthier than in previous tapes and speaking in a calm voice, said on a videotape broadcast yesterday. "Your security is in your own hands."
Osama bin Laden, in a videotape broadcast on al-Jazeera, told Americans not to elect any president who would try to destroy al Qaeda.
(Al-jazeera Via AP)
Bin Laden, in his first videotaped address in three years, displayed a fluency with American culture, mentioning "Manhattan," the USA Patriot Act and the 2000 election controversy in Florida. He made no explicit threat and did not issue a call to arms, as he has done since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Although he directed statements to the American public, many intelligence and other counterterrorism experts concluded bin Laden's primary goal was to use the U.S. campaign season to enhance his public profile rather than to sway the election.
"The tape is more about his own audience, about getting himself reelected as the head of the movement, than anything else," said Winston P. Wiley, former CIA deputy director of intelligence.
But the al Qaeda leader's appearance so close to Election Day prompted President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry to interrupt campaigning to react. It also reignited the speculation over whether the world's most wanted terrorist favors one candidate.
Inside the CIA, one senior U.S. counterterrorism official said, "I've heard it argued either way . . . but listen to what he's saying. It doesn't matter who's president."
Bush supporters have generally said bin Laden would like Kerry elected, in the expectation of taking the heat off his network; Kerry supporters point to jihadist Web sites' recent statements that Bush's policies have so inflamed the Muslim world that he is their best recruiting draw. Each side disputes the other's interpretation.
"He's injecting himself into the campaign to show he's a world player," said Daniel Benjamin, a Clinton administration counterterrorism official who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In the tape, bin Laden stands at a lectern in white and gold robes before a brown background. His environs are not visible, a sharp contrast to previous tapes that have shown him walking through rocky passes.
A CIA spokesman said analysts had a "high degree of confidence" in the tape's authenticity after performing voice and facial analysis. He said the tape, broadcast on the Arabic-language al-Jazeera network, displayed the date of Sunday, Oct. 24.
It was the first time since December 2001 that bin Laden both appeared and spoke on a videotape, he said. A videotape released in September 2003 showed him walking with senior al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, but there was no audio, and officials believe the video could have been old. An audiotape believed to have been recorded by bin Laden was released with it.
The spokesman noted that the address broadcast yesterday "lacked an explicit threat" and that the al Qaeda leader reiterated grievances against the United States and Israel.
In the speech, bin Laden attacked Bush, his father and their closeness to the Saudi monarchy.