Bin Laden video is compilation of repeats, says expert

Guardian | September 12, 2003
By Brian Whitaker

Experts were puzzling over the latest videotape of Osama bin Laden yesterday in the hope of establishing firm clues which may indicate when and where the recording was made.

Parts of the 105-minute tape broadcast by al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite channel, on Wednesday night showed Bin Laden with his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who urged supporters to bury Americans in "the graveyard of Iraq".

But a French terrorism expert cautioned yesterday against taking the video at face value. Roland Jacquard, head of the International Observatory on Terrorism based in Paris, told French radio that it was mostly a collection of old footage and soundtracks which have been aired.

"Given that Osama bin Laden has not appeared on a video cassette for many months, it is pretty incomprehensible that in the only video cassette where he appears beside Ayman al-Zawahiri he doesn't speak, he just allows the latter to speak," Mr Jacquard said.

"The voice of Bin Laden that we hear in the background, thanking the World Trade Centre plane hijackers, is exactly the same message that was broadcast in a video cassette by al-Jazeera on December 26 2001," he said.

Mr Jacquard said some of the Bin Laden pictures on the tape could predate the US-led offensive in the Tora Bora mountains in eastern Afghanistan in December 2001 during which the al-Qaida leader was confirmed as being present.

A CIA official said yesterday that analysis of the "Bin Laden" voice on the latest tape had been inconclusive, but the other voice had been authenticated as Zawahiri's.

Sections of the tape showed Bin Laden and Zawahiri walking in a mountainous area carrying sticks, possibly to steady themselves over the rocky terrain, and automatic weapons.

Bin Laden had a watch with a large circular dial, different from the black digital watch which he often wore in photographs taken before the Afghan war. There was no sign of a ring which he previously wore on his right hand.

Experts said the background suggested the men had been filmed in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan in early summer.

Bin Laden made no topical references in the soundtrack but Zawahiri mentioned the US-led invasion of Iraq.

"On the second anniversary of the raids on New York and Washington we challenge America and its crusade, which is teetering from its wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said.

An Arab journalist who interviewed Bin Laden in Tora Bora told the Guardian yesterday that the al-Qaida leader looked different in the video.

"He definitely has more grey hair but he looks healthier," said Abd al-Bari Atwan, editor of al-Quds al-Arabi.

He was also surprised by the timing of the video to coincide with September 11. "Bin Laden doesn't usually care about anniversaries," he said.