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Bin Laden Tape Stirs Up U.S. Presidential Race

30 October 2004 -- A tape showing Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, apparently healthy and defiant, appeared on 29 October on the Arabic Al-Jazeera television channel.

"I am addressing you, the American people, in this message in order to show you the best way to avoid another Manhattan and to tell you about the war, its reasons and its results," bin Laden said. "I also want to tell you that security is certainly one of the most important human issues and that free people never abandon their security. Contrary to what [U.S. President George] Bush has said, we are not against freedom, otherwise, why doesn't he explain how we did not attack, [for example] Sweden? If we were not free people, we would not have permitted the sacrifice of the 19 innocent souls. We have fought you because we are free people and we want to bring freedom to all our people. Just as you threaten our security, we threaten your security."

In the tape, bin Laden makes his clearest claim of responsibility yet for the attacks of 11 September 2001, when hijacked planes brought down the two towers of New York's World Trade Center and slammed into the Pentagon.

He accuses Bush of complacency during the attacks, mocking him for continuing a visit with schoolchildren as the news came in.

He says he first thought of the idea of attacking U.S. skyscrapers when he saw Israeli aircraft bombing tower blocks in Lebanon in 1982, during an invasion that he says was supported by the United States.

And he warns of the possibility of "repeat" attacks, saying Americans can avoid what he calls "another Manhattan."

The tape was released just four days before the 2 November U.S. presidential election -- and in a sign the recording may be fresh, bin Laden mentions Bush's Democratic rival, U.S. Senator John Kerry.

Both reacted immediately, saying America is united against terrorism. "Let me make this very clear," Bush said. "Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country. I'm sure Senator Kerry agrees with this. I also want to say to the American people, we are at war with these terrorists, and I'm confident we will prevail."

Kerry vowed too to hunt down and destroy bin Laden and his associates. "As Americans, we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden and the terrorists," Kerry said. "They are barbarians. And I will stop at absolutely nothing to hunt down, capture, or kill the terrorists wherever they are, whatever it takes. Period."

But the tape also prompted some sharp political sparring.

Kerry criticized Bush's failure to capture bin Laden, saying it left the United States more vulnerable to attacks. Bush then said that remark was "shameful" in light of the new tape.

Observers say it's not yet certain what impact -- if any -- the tape will have on the 2 November vote.

They say it's unclear if it will help Bush by reminding voters of his fight against terrorism -- or help Kerry by showing that bin Laden remains uncaptured more than three years after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

(RFE, Agencies)