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Afghanistan: New Videotape Links Al-Qaeda To 11 September Attacks

The Arabic-language Al-Jazeera satellite television network yesterday broadcast excerpts from a videotape showing an 11 September suicide bomber declaring that it is time to "kill Americans in their heartland." The network says the passage appears to have been recorded in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar at least six months before 11 September, and says it is the strongest proof yet that Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network was behind the attacks.

Prague, 12 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- "It is time to prove to the whole world that the United States of America has worn a garment that was not originally made for it, when it merely thought about facing or resisting the mujahedin."

That was the voice of Ahmed Alhaznawi, one of the 11 September hijackers, reading what the Qatar-based satellite television network Al-Jazeera says is his last will and testament, recorded on videotape. Al-Jazeera yesterday aired excerpts from the tape, which is believed to have been recorded in March 2001.

The initial passage shows Alhaznawi reading and gesticulating against a technically altered backdrop that includes a large photograph of the burning south tower of the World Trade Center. On the tape, Alhaznawi says he and others want to send a message that it is "time to kill the Americans in their own back yard, among their sons and near their forces and intelligence."

Alhaznawi was a 20-year-old Saudi who helped seize the United Airlines jet that crashed in a field in the eastern U.S. state of Pennsylvania before it could hit its intended target, which is still unknown.

"We have killed them outside their land, praise be to Allah," he says on the videotape. "Today, we kill them in the midst of their own home."

In another undated passage, suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden is seen sitting in silence as his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, appears to praise the suicide bombers' "victory."

"This great victory that was achieved is due, in fact, to the grace of Allah alone. It was not due to our skillfulness or superiority, but it is due to Allah's blessing alone. Those 19 brothers who left [their homes], made efforts, and offered their lives for Allah's cause -- Allah has favored them with this conquest."

Al-Jazeera's editor in chief, Ibrahim Hilal, will not reveal the source of the videotape, but he says it provides the first clear evidence that bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network was behind the 11 September attacks.

He says the new videotape is more credible than the so-called "smoking-gun" videotape recovered by the U.S. in December that shows bin Laden chuckling about the World Trade Center attacks.

"The most important thing on this tape is not having bin Laden or al-Zawahiri speaking on it, but the most important thing is that it's the first time for anybody to watch or to find one of the bombers of 11 September speaking, taped, recorded, six months before he did this crime in America. So it's very good for American interests to have this proof, which is, I think, more credible than the 'smoking-gun' tape," Hilal says.

Terrorism expert Paul Wilkinson says there's little new in the excerpts of the new videotape aired so far, but that they serve as further confirmation of Al-Qaeda's responsibility for the attacks. Wilkinson is head of the U.K-based Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.

"They are trying to get a message out to their own sympathizers and supporters that they're still in business and that their campaign will continue. That, I think, is of significance, whatever the question marks about bin Laden's own whereabouts and well-being," Wilkinson says.

The tape was aired as another Arabic-language media outlet -- the London-based newspaper "Al Hayat" -- printed a statement said to be from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, saying Jews and America are waging a losing war against Islam.

Wilkinson says we are likely to see more videotapes surface in the future in an effort by Al-Qaeda to keep their name in the headlines: "It's quite clear that Al-Qaeda has a propaganda organization which is busy preparing material and churning it out. And it uses the Al-Jazeera station as an outlet. I suppose we will see more of these things."

The new videotape is the latest such exclusive for Al-Jazeera, which made a name for itself soon after the attacks by being the first to broadcast videotaped statements by bin Laden.

As happened then, the spotlight now is as much on the network as it is on the contents of the tape it is broadcasting. Early on, U.S. officials accused the station of providing a platform for extremists. But Al-Jazeera's Hilal says the channel is now under fire from many in the Arab world who are angry that this videotape clearly seems to prove Al-Qaeda's links to last September's terrorist attacks.

"We are receiving telephone calls from thousands of people condemning our tape because they say now you are proving the American theory. We don't care, because this is our job. We are doing a journalistic job. Whether it is pro or against somebody, it's not our job [to judge]. We are just a channel of information, and this bit of information is very important. Any information we receive -- whatever the source -- we will show it on our screen because it is important for the knowledge of the whole globe," Hilal says.

Al-Jazeera is scheduled to air the full hour-long videotape tomorrow.

(Sami Shoresh of Radio Free Iraq contributed to this report.)