Afghan officials fear bin Laden tape may lift followers
Pakistan urged to increase efforts
BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- Afghan officials warned that the latest videotape of Osama bin Laden could rally his followers and trigger more terror attacks, and they urged Pakistan yesterday to do more to track down the Al Qaeda leader.
A Western official said bin Laden is active on the Afghan-Pakistan border but is running out of maneuvering room. Pakistan said it was doing all it can to find him.
"Time, space, and options for the Al Qaeda network and its important leaders is getting limited," Pakistan's Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat said.
On the eve of the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera aired video of bin Laden and his number two, Ayman al-Zawahri -- the first images of the Al Qaeda leader in nearly two years. It also broadcast audio attributed to the two men.
Bin Laden was seen clambering over rocky mountain terrain with a rifle slung over his shoulder. Al-Jazeera said the tapes were produced in late April or early May.
The CIA has authenticated a section of the audio as the voice of al-Zawahri, but analysts are unsure about the voice purported to be bin Laden, a CIA official said yesterday in Washington.
Regardless, the video footage and recorded messages were considered likely to inspire bin Laden's followers.
"This tape will be a morale boost for [Taliban and Al Qaeda] fighters," said Bismillah Khan, Afghan deputy defense minister. "It shows that their leader is alive."
The tape "reminds us that the war on terror goes on," President Bush said yesterday.
"His rhetoric is trying to intimidate and create fear," Bush said after a trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he visited troops wounded in the war in Iraq.
"He's not going to intimidate America. We are at war because of what he and his fellow killers decided to do two years ago today. We will stay the course until we have achieved our objective and dismantled the terrorist organizations."
In an eight-minute audiotape accompanying the video, the voice purported to be bin Laden's praises the "great damage to the enemy" caused on Sept. 11, 2001, and names five of the 19 plane hijackers. On a second audiotape, a speaker identified as al-Zawahri threatens more attacks on Americans and urges Iraqi guerrillas to "bury" US troops.
The Taliban militia, ousted by US-led forces in late 2001 for harboring bin Laden and his followers inside Afghanistan, have recently regrouped -- apparently alongside allies from Al Qaeda and an Afghan warlord -- and stepped up attacks against Afghan government forces, officials and aid workers.
In fighting in the south of the country this month against US and Afghan government forces, more than 100 Taliban guerrillas died. Four US troops were killed in battle in the past month.
A Western diplomat in Kabul said bin Laden is "very, very active" in the border region of Pakistan. He said, however, that the most recent covert operations of US special forces and Pakistani troops may have forced the Al Qaeda leader to try to cross into Afghanistan.
Afghan officials have long claimed that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are staging incursions from Pakistani soil.
"Our intelligence sources have told us that al-Zawahri is in Pakistan's tribal areas. . . . Americans know where he is, but Pakistan should help as well," Khan said.
Pakistan, once a key backer of the Taliban regime, switched sides after the Sept. 11 attacks and has become a close US ally. It has rounded up more than 500 Taliban and Al Qaeda suspects -- including some key bin Laden lieutenants -- and handed many of them over to the United States.
Earlier this month, Pakistani troops were deployed into the country's rugged tribal regions to root out Taliban and Al Qaeda fugitives -- a mission kept low-key because of local resentment about their presence.
"We are committed to end the threat of terrorism. The government is determined to continue the fight against terrorism until Al Qaeda and its affiliates are eliminated," Interior Minister Hayyat said.
But nearly two years after the hunt for terror suspects began in earnest, insurgent attacks risk undermining efforts to rebuild Afghanistan, led by the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.
On Monday, suspected Taliban rebels ambushed and executed four Afghans working for a Danish charity in southeastern Ghazni province. It was the latest in a string of such attacks that have raised fears in the aid community about operating in parts of the war-battered country.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.