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Bin Laden: Moussaoui Not Linked to 9/11

"Since Zacarias Moussaoui was still learning how to fly, he wasn't No. 20 in the group, as your government has claimed," bin Laden said.

He continued that Moussaoui was not a security risk for al-Qaida, because he did not have knowledge of the plot.

"Brother Moussaoui was arrested two weeks before the events, and if he had known something _ even very little _ about the Sept. 11 group, we would have informed the leader of the operation, Mohammad Atta, and the others ... to leave America before being discovered," Bin Laden said.

Bin Laden said Moussaoui's confession _ that he helped plan the attacks _ was "void," calling it the result of pressures during imprisonment.

Edward MacMahon, one of the lawyers who defended Moussaoui during his death penalty trial, said bin Laden wouldn't have made the best witness for his client, even with his statements that Moussaoui had no role in the attacks.

"I never believed there was any evidence to support Moussaoui's story (that he was the 20th highjacker), and that's what I told the jury," he said.

The audio message, which is less than five minutes long, was transmitted with a still photo of bin Laden.

If authentic, it would be the third by bin Laden this year. In a tape aired on Arab television in April, he denounced the United States and Europe for cutting off funds to the Hamas-led Palestinian government, accusing them of leading a "Zionist" war on Islam, and urged followers to fight any U.N. peacekeeping force in Sudan.

In January, bin Laden said in an audiotape that al-Qaida was preparing new attacks in the United States but offered a truce _ though his lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahri later issued a video saying Washington had refused to take the offer.

The January message was bin Laden's first in over a year, his longest period of silence since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

His deputy al-Zawahri releases messages more frequently, appearing in videotapes, while bin Laden has not appeared in a video since October 2004.

Bin Laden did mentioned by name two journalists and a relief worker accused of being aligned to the terror network, saying they had no such ties. Sami al-Hajj, an Al-Jazeera cameraman, was arrested in Afghanistan in 2001 and held at Guantanamo Bay. Tayssir Alouni, an Al-Jazeera correspondent, was convicted by a Spanish court of collaborating with al-Qaida, though he denied the charges. And Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi, who founded an Afghan charity that was branded by the U.S. as supporting terror.

____

AP writer Katherine Shrader in Washington contributed to this report


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© 2006 The Associated Press