The deep, unshaken voice calling for more attacks against the United States and its allies broadcast on the al-Jazeera television network last week is a genuine, unedited audiotape made by Osama bin Laden in the last several weeks, U.S. intelligence officials said yesterday.
Linguists at the National Security Agency who have been assigned for many years to study bin Laden's voice and analyze tape recordings and intercepts of his suspected conversations have no doubt it is the voice of al Qaeda's leader. But the quality of the tape, in which bin Laden is believed to be speaking into a telephone that is near a tape recorder's microphone, is not good enough to allow a 100 percent certainty that it is him, a U.S. intelligence official said.
Still, the CIA and NSA assessment is the next best thing to definitive. "Our intelligence experts do believe that the tape is genuine," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "It cannot be stated with 100 percent certainty. It is clear that the tape was made in the last several weeks."
Some Democrats in Congress have used the tape as evidence that the administration has not done enough in the war on terrorism and should not be diverted from terrorism by launching a war in Iraq.
A number of high-ranking U.S. officials, among them national security adviser Condoleeza Rice, responded last week by saying they had made significant progress in capturing terrorists and disrupting terrorist plans. Yesterday, McClellan called bin Laden's audiotape "a reminder that we are at war on terrorism. It's a reminder that we need to continue doing everything we can to go after these terrorist networks and their leaders wherever they are and we will."
The last firm evidence that bin Laden was alive came more than one year ago in a videotape, dated Nov. 9, 2001, showing bin Laden at a dinner with his chief deputy, Ayman Zawahiri. He appeared gaunt and weak, and some ana- lysts believed he may be been wounded during U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan.
The recent audiotape was delivered to the Qatar-based al-Jazeera Arabic-language network last week. Intelligence experts believe the tape was made in the last several weeks because bin Laden praises the terrorist attack in Bali, the Chechen takeover of a theater in Moscow and the recent shooting death of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan.
Kuwaiti authorities, meanwhile, are interrogating an alleged al Qaeda member suspected of plotting to blow up a hotel frequented by U.S. officials in Sanna, the capital of Yemen, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
The man, Mohsen al-Fadhli, 21, was arrested with two other men Nov. 4. U.S. intelligence officials said he is believed to have been involved in an al Qaeda plan to launch a car bomb attack against the hotel, where about 20 Americans -- most of them government and military officials -- are staying.
In addition to his suspected role in a planned hotel attack, al-Fadhli is being investigated for possible involvement in the Oct. 6 attack on a French oil tanker off the Yemeni coast that killed a crew member, and the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 Americans.