Ever since U.S. President George W. Bush blamed Osama bin Laden for the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States, skeptics have demanded convincing evidence. Bush has been reluctant to share his evidence for fear of compromising American intelligence operations. But now an amateur videotape has surfaced showing bin Laden discussing the planning of the acts of terror. The U.S. says this may now convince the unbelievers.
Washington, 14 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A videotape of Osama bin Laden gleefully discussing the carnage in the United States on 11 September is perhaps the most compelling evidence that he is responsible for the acts of terror.
In the tape, bin Laden does not merely display prior knowledge of the attacks on Washington, New York, and Pennsylvania. He boasts that he planned them. And he notes that the loss of life at the World Trade Center was even greater than he had expected.
The tape was not a professionally produced video, like two that bin Laden released through Al-Jazeera, the satellite television network that broadcasts to much of the Middle East. It is an amateur recording. But its quality was sufficient to give the world a glimpse of the Saudi exile who has become America's most wanted fugitive.
In the video, bin Laden speaks in Arabic. The U.S. government has provided a translation of his words, and those of his companions, in subtitles. An Arabic-speaking RFE/RL correspondent listened carefully to the tape and said the translation is true to the speakers' words.
The U.S. government says the recording was made in a guest house in Kandahar, the home city of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. It was found last month in a home in Jalalabad, in the east of the country. Shortly after the tape was released yesterday (13 December), U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he could not say who found it or give other details of its discovery.
The Defense Department issued a statement saying it was tempted to withhold the tape to prevent further anguish for the relatives of people killed in the attacks. It said it released the video so that the world could decide for itself what America faces in its campaign against terrorism.
On the tape, bin Laden is seen smiling and occasionally chuckling as he recalls the day during a conversation with a companion, whom the U.S. identifies as Sheikh Sulayman, a Saudi Arabian cleric.
At one point, bin Laden tells of listening to an American radio news broadcast shortly after the first of two fuel-laden jetliners struck the World Trade Center in New York. He says the people with him are "overjoyed" at this report, and he told them: "Be patient."
Minutes later, the second jetliner hit the other Trade Center tower. And less than an hour after that, a third passenger jet struck the Pentagon in Washington. A fourth plane crashed in a rural area of the state of Pennsylvania.
Elsewhere on the tape, bin Laden speaks of planning the attacks against New York, and trying to determine how much structural damage -- and carnage -- to expect.
"We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all. [Inaudible passage.] Due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for."
A smiling bin Laden also tells his companion that the plan was so secret, the 19 men who hijacked the four jetliners knew nothing of their missions until the very last moment.
"The brothers, who conducted the operation, all they knew was that they have a martyrdom operation and we asked each of them to go to America but they didn't know anything about the operation, not even one letter. But they were trained and we did not reveal the operation to them until they are there and just before they boarded the planes."
U.S. government officials who previewed the tape before it was made public said such recollections show bin Laden to be ruthless and uncaring, even regarding his own men. Bush, for example, said he has "no soul." Yesterday, in New York, the city's mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, echoed this remark.
"He [bin Laden] seems delighted at having killed more people than he anticipated, which leaves you wondering just how -- just how -- just how deep his evil heart and soul really is."
Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor, also endorsed the idea that the video is compelling evidence that bin Laden was the author of the attacks and that the American military campaign in Afghanistan is justified.
"It indicates that the effort of the United States government to try to find him, either to bring him to justice, or if it turns out that in the effort to find him he's killed, it seems that it's more than justified. For anybody that had any doubt as to the justification of the military effort of the United States in defense of ourselves, this tape removes any doubt among anyone that would have any degree of common sense at all."
At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld was asked how he would characterize the value of the videotape. He said simply that the recording speaks for itself.