Experts warn of attack clues in Bin Laden video
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Intelligence experts scouring the latest video of Osama bin Laden for clues warned on Saturday that his message offers hints that Al-Qaeda is planning another attack on US interests.
In his first video appearance in three years, the elusive Al-Qaeda chief mocks the United States as "weak" and vows to escalate fighting in Iraq, all the while using language similar to the kind used ahead of other past attacks.
At times, bin Laden speaks directly to Americans, using plain language that "appears to be crafted in a way as to be understood by the average person on the street in Europe or in the US," said intelligence analyst Ben Venzke.
The latest video "contains phrases ... which serve as indicators that OBL's message is part of Al-Qaeda's efforts to fulfill its requirements to provide warning and a chance for the enemy to change its ways before executing an attack," Venzke said.
However, the message, delivered days ahead of the sixth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States in which 3,000 people were killed, gives no clues "to indicate when an attack ... would be attempted," he said.
The language, saying peace will befall "he who follows the guidance," mirrors that used in bin Laden's "European truce offer" of April 2004 in which he said: "Peace upon those who followed the right path."
The similarity in terms is important because the 2004 message appealing to Europeans to change their ways was the final message aimed specifically at Europeans before the July 2005 bombings in London which killed 52 people, said Venzke of the Virginia-based Intel Center.
In the video, bin Laden also discusses current events but issues no direct threats, and offers two ways of ending the Iraq war, according to a transcript released by the US-based SITE Intelligence Group which monitors Islamic militant websites.
"The first is from our side, and it is to continue to escalate the killing and fighting against you," he says in the video, the full version of which was released Saturday.
The second is to do away with the US democratic system of government, which he says merely serves the interests of major corporations.
"Your security is in your own hands. And every state that doesn't play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own security," he says, adding: "Allah is our guardian and helper, while you have no guardian or helper."
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said analysts were reviewing the tape for authenticity as well as "overt messages or hidden messages."
Bin Laden appears in the video with a trimmed beard that is apparently dyed black, hiding the streaks of gray seen in previous footage, and wears a beige cloak over a white robe.
According to Azzam Tamimi, head of the London-based Institute of Islamic Political Thought, the beard dye is a "sign of war."
The rigorous Salafi Islamic school to which bin Laden belongs "condones this dye only in preparation for war," he said.
A US intelligence official speaking on condition of anonymity said agencies believe the video is authentic and was produced as recently as August because of a reference to the 62nd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6.
"I think people are pretty confident it is his voice," the official said.
Prior to this release, the last video message from bin Laden, who has a 25-million-dollar US bounty on his head, came in October 2004, while a CIA-authenticated audio clip was posted on the Internet in May 2006.
CIA Director Michael Hayden on Friday also warned that Al-Qaeda was planning new, large-scale attacks on US targets.
"Our analysts assess with high confidence that Al-Qaeda's central leadership is planning high impact plots against the American homeland," Hayden said.
In the rambling message, bin Laden mocks the United States for its troubles in Iraq and the effect of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"Despite America being the greatest economic power and possessing the most powerful and up-to-date military arsenal as well ... 19 young men were able -- by the grace of Allah, the most high -- to change the direction of its compass," he said in a reference to the September 11 hijackers.
"America is weak despite its apparent strength," he says.
Believed to be hiding in the remote tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, bin Laden verbally attacks US President George W. Bush as well as the US Democratic Party, which he says has done little to halt the Iraq war.
"The world is following your news in regards to your invasion of Iraq, for people have recently come to know that, after several years of tragedies of this war, the vast majority of you want it stopped."
He says the Democrats who now control the US Congress have failed to stop the war, and even "continue to agree to the spending of tens of billions to continue the killing and war there."
Bush, in turn, used the video to support the US military presence in Iraq.
"If Al-Qaeda bothers to mention Iraq, it's because they want to achieve their objectives in Iraq, which is to drive attacks and develop a safe haven," Bush said.
Bin Laden also refers to recent US headline stories, including "the burden of interest-related debts, insane taxes and real estate mortgages; global warming and its woes."
"To conclude," he says, "I invite you to embrace Islam."