CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – Osama bin Laden warned in an audiotape aired yesterday that his fighters are preparing new attacks in the United States but offered the American people a “long-term truce” without specifying the conditions.
The tape, portions of which were aired on Al-Jazeera television, was the first from the al-Qaida leader in more than a year. It came only days after a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan that targeted bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, and reportedly killed four leading al-Qaida figures, possibly including al-Zawahri’s son-in-law.
There was no mention of that attack in the tape, which Al-Jazeera said was recorded in January. The network initially reported it believed the tape was made in December, but later corrected itself on the air. Editors at the station said they could not comment on how they knew when it was made.
The CIA has authenticated the voice on the tape as that of bin Laden, an agency official said. The al-Qaida leader is believed to be hiding in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Beyond confirming that bin Laden remains alive, the tape could be aimed at projecting an image of strength to al-Qaida sympathizers and portray the group as still capable of launching attacks despite blows against it, analysts said.
The White House rejected the truce offer.
The United States will not let up in the war on terror despite bin Laden’s latest threats, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. “We do not negotiate with terrorists,” McClellan said. “We put them out of business.”
U.S. counterterror officials said yesterday they have seen no specific or credible intelligence to indicate an impending al-Qaida attack on the United States. The Homeland Security Department has no immediate plans to raise the national terror alert, spokesman Russ Knocke said.
In the tape, bin Laden spoke in a soft voice, as he has in previous recordings, but his tone was flatter than in the past and had an echo, as if recorded indoors. He presented his message with a combination of threats, vows his followers can fight forever and a tone of reconciliation, insisting he wants to offer a way to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He even recommended a book for Americans to read -“The Rogue State,” apparently a book of the same title by American author William Blum. He said it offers the path to peace – that America must apologize to victims of the wars and promise never to “interfere” in other nations – though it was not clear if these were conditions for the truce.
Bin Laden said he decided to make a statement to the American people because he said President Bush was pushing ahead despite polls which showed “an overwhelming majority of you want the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.”
He said the Bush administration was lying about victories in the Iraq war. Bin Laden insisted the insurgents will eventually win the conflict, which he said is only strengthening the cause of the “mujahedeen,” or holy warriors.
But he said that even if the U.S. does prevail in the war, “the nights and days will not pass without us taking vengeance like on Sept. 11, God permitting.”
He warned that security measures in the West and the United States could not prevent attacks there, citing the July 7 bombings in London that killed 56 people.
“The delay in similar operations happening in America has not been because of failure to break through your security measures,” he said. “The operations are under preparation and you will see them in your homes the minute they are through (with preparations), with God’s permission.”
He offered a “long-term truce with fair conditions that we adhere to. . Both sides can enjoy security and stability under this truce so we can build Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been destroyed in this war.
“There is no shame in this solution, which prevents the wasting of billions of dollars that have gone to those with influence and merchants of war in America,” he said.
Bin Laden then made an oblique reference to how to prevent new attacks on the United States.
He told Americans that “if you are sincere in your desire for peace and security, we have answered you. And if Bush decides to carry on with his lies and oppression, then it would be useful for you to read the book ‘The Rogue State.'”
He said the book reads in its introduction, “If I were president, I would stop the attacks on the United States: First I would give an apology to all the widows and orphans and those who were tortured. Then I would announce that American interference in the nations of the world has ended.”
The Associated Press found a nearly identical passage in another book by Blum: “Freeing The World To Death: Essays on the American Empire,” published in 2004. The passage could not, however, be found in the latest edition of “The Rogue State.”
The tape ended the longest silence from bin Laden since the Sept. 11 attacks, a lull which had raised speculation over his fate.
The last audiotape purported to be from bin Laden was broadcast in December 2004 by Al-Jazeera. In that recording, he endorsed Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi as his deputy in Iraq and called for a boycott of Iraqi elections.
Previously, the longest period without a message from the al-Qaida leader was from December 2001 to November 2002. He issued numerous tapes in 2003 and 2004, calling for Muslims to attack U.S. interests and threatening attacks against the United States.
Bin Laden appeared in a video released October 2004, just ahead of U.S. presidential elections, saying the United States could avoid another Sept. 11 attack if it stops threatening the security of Muslims.
In an April 15, 2004, audiotape, he vowed revenge against the United States for Israel’s assassination of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin – and at the same time offered a truce to European countries.
Since December 2004, al-Zawahri, the al-Qaida Number 2, has issued a number of video and audiotapes, including one claiming responsibility for the London attacks, which he said came after Europe rejected the terms of bin Laden’s truce offer.
Al-Jazeera’s editor in chief Ahmed al-Sheik would not comment on when or where the latest tape was received.
Jeremy Bennie, a terrorism analyst for Jane’s Defense Weekly, said bin Laden appeared to be “playing the peacemaker, the more statesmanlike character” with his offer of a truce.
“They want to promote the image that they can launch attacks if and when it suits them,” he said. “They want us to believe they are in control,” he said.
The mention of rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan may be a recognition of divisions among the ranks of Islamic militants over the insurgency in Iraq by bin Laden’s ally, al-Zarqawi, who has come under criticism by some radicals for attacks on Iraqi civilians.
Former White House anti-terrorism chief Richard A. Clarke said “the initial significance of this (tape) is that he’s still alive.”
Beyond that, he told the AP, “the only new element in his statement is that they are planning an attack soon on the United States.
“Would he say that and risk being proved wrong, if he can’t pull it off in a month or so?” Clarke asked.
The truce offer may be aimed at making bin Laden “look more reasonable in Arab and Muslim eyes. He’s a very sophisticated reader of world opinion and American opinion, and he obviously knows he can’t affect American thinking. He’s too reviled,” he said.