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New Bin Laden Tape May Be Bid for Status

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By JASPER MORTIMER
The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 24, 2006; 3:51 PM

CAIRO, Egypt -- Osama bin Laden's latest audiotape is both an attempt to trash the U.S. justice system and recapture his "thunder" as the world's No. 1 terrorist, experts said Wednesday.

The five-minute tape posted on the Internet on Tuesday is indicative of al-Qaida's revved-up propaganda machine, which is issuing an increasing number of messages from top leaders and showing a quicker reaction time to world events. It was bin Laden's third tape this year.

Bin Laden spent much of the tape trying to exonerate Zacarias Moussaoui of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. The tape emerged three weeks after a federal court in Virginia sentenced Moussaoui to life imprisonment for the attacks.

Evan Kohlman, U.S.-based founder of globalterroralert.com, which tracks al-Qaida, said the terror network used to take two to three months to get tapes into the media. "Nowadays they are able to put out these things within days, weeks _ it's quite amazing," he said.

Bin Laden's focus on Moussaoui may have had two purposes: to show the al-Qaida leader's command of the Sept. 11 attacks and to taunt the U.S. over its effort to prosecute terrorists. Moussaoui is the only person convicted in the United States for the 9/11 attacks.

On the tape, bin Laden referred to the 19 militants involved in the suicide hijackings, saying: "I am the one in charge of the 19 brothers and I never assigned brother Zacarias to be with them in that mission."

Addressing the American people, bin Laden said Moussaoui was not the 20th hijacker "as your government has claimed," and his confession of guilt was the result of pressure under detention.

"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, Mohamed Atta, and the others ... to leave America before being discovered," bin Laden said.

Robert Pfaltzgraff, a foreign policy analyst with the Fletcher School at Tufts University, said bin Laden was seeking to weaken the United States.

"He's mocking our system of justice. He's saying: 'You guys got it wrong,'" Pfaltzgraff said. But bin Laden also was boosting himself, effectively saying: "I'm still here. You still haven't gotten me."

Moussaoui's true role remains unclear. He was notoriously erratic during trial, prompting his lawyers to say he was confessing in order to be sentenced to death and become a martyr. After sentencing, Moussaoui said he had nothing to do with the attacks.

Bin Laden's comments did nothing to resolve the question. Kohlman said he believed bin Laden issued the tape to distance al-Qaida from a person who came across as "a lunatic" because of his outbursts during trial.


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