Prague, 3 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- In the complete 18-minute version of Osama bin Laden's latest videotaped speech, the Al-Qaeda leader accuses U.S. President George W. Bush of dragging America into a quagmire in Iraq.
In the unedited version of the tape -- which has been released through an Islamist website -- bin Laden says Bush ignored advice against going to war in Iraq. He alleges that Bush invaded Iraq in March 2003 in order to get the country's oil. He describes the invasion as "unjustified" and says the war will have no end. He also threatens possible future attacks against Americans in retaliation for the deaths of Iraqis.
It was the first videotape released by bin Laden in more than a year.
Jason Burke is a leading expert on Al-Qaeda and a correspondent for "The Observer" newspaper in London. Burke told RFE/RL today that he thinks the release of the video helped the election campaign of incumbent U.S. President George W. Bush, rather than his challenger, Senator John Kerry.
"I think we're focusing too much on the idea that bin Laden is trying to intervene directly in the U.S. elections. Bin Laden is using the elections as an opportunity to reach a far wider audience than he would do otherwise."
"There clearly has been some influence just by the appearance of bin Laden at such a critical time. That's to be expected. My sense would be, and the polls seem to show, that it helped Bush rather than Kerry," Burke says.
But Burke says he thinks correspondents and political commentators have been wrong to describe the tape as an attempt by bin Laden to directly influence the outcome of the U.S. vote.
"I think we're focusing too much on the idea that bin Laden is trying to intervene directly in the U.S. elections. Bin Laden is using the elections as an opportunity to reach a far wider audience than he would do otherwise. And clearly he is interested in the results of the elections. But if he'd wanted to influence them directly, he could have come out for one candidate or the other -- which would obviously have an immediate negative effect on their campaign. So my feeling is that he is using [the U.S. election] as a platform rather than trying to directly influence the way American electors go," Burke says.
Commenting on the tape, Bush says Americans would not be intimidated or influenced by what he called "an enemy of our country." Kerry has said the United States should have focused on capturing bin Laden instead of launching the war in Iraq.
Burke notes that it was the Arabic television broadcaster Al-Jazeera that decided not to air bin Laden's remarks about Iraq ahead of yesterday's U.S. presidential vote.
"The tape was released in full by Al-Qaeda, or by bin Laden, or by whoever actually supplied it to Al-Jazeera. Al-Jazeera made the decision to edit it down. Not anyone who was involved in the manufacturing of the tape. So this isn't the first time the full tape is being released, as it were," Burke says.
Burke sees it as significant that the first complete version of the video to be made available to the general public was through an Islamist website.
"The interesting thing about the Islamist websites is that they provide a way of releasing material that no one else will use. And it shows the impossibility of trying to censor any kind of statement by radical Islamic groups. When given the power of modern technology, there are ways of disseminating information and images very, very fast throughout the Islamic world and beyond that are simply uncontrollable. And that's what the Islamist websites do," Burke says.
In the excerpts released on 30 October by Al-Jazeera -- just four days before the U.S. election -- a healthy looking bin Laden made his clearest claim of responsibility yet for the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in the United States.
He also accused Bush of complacency during those attacks, mocking him for continuing to read a children's book at a Florida school as the news came in.
Al-Jazeera also broadcast a part of the tape in which bin Laden warned of possible "repeat" attacks unless Washington changes its foreign policy toward the Middle East and the rest of the Arab world.