September 10, 2003 - Posted 1:42 p.m. CDT
BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera aired video and audio tapes of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy on Wednesday. The footage — the first video image of bin Laden in nearly two years — was aired on the eve of the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The tapes were produced in late April or early May, the broadcaster said.
In the audiotape, a voice said to be that of bin Laden praises the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States two years ago for causing "great damage to the enemy" and mentions five of the hijackers by name. A religious song could be heard in the background of the tape.
Another voice on the tape, attributed to bin Laden top aide Ayman al-Zawahri, calls on Iraqi guerrillas to "bury" American troops in Iraq.
It appeared to be the first video image of bin Laden since he was shown at a dinner with associates on Nov. 9, 2001 in Afghanistan. That tape was made public a month later.
U.S. intelligence officials will review the video and audio voiceover to try to determine if they are authentic and when and where they were made, officials in Washington said. In the past, CIA analyses of such messages have taken a day or two to complete.
Press reports from the Mideast over the last week had suggested a new bin Laden video was set to air Wednesday, one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Messages from al-Qaida leaders are sometimes viewed as presaging an attack. The Department of Homeland Security previously said it did not plan to raise the national terror threat level above its current position at yellow, signifying an elevated threat of attack.
Bin Laden was last heard from on April 7, exhorting Muslims in a tape obtained by The Associated Press to rise up against Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other governments he claimed were "agents of America." That audiotape, which CIA analysts said appeared to be authentic, made a vague reference to the Iraq conflict, although it was not specific enough to determine whether it had been recorded before or after the Iraqi war began on March 20.
The videotape broadcast Wednesday shows bin Laden and al-Zawahri, dressed in Afghan clothing, walking up and down a rocky hill dotted with green plants. In one shot, bin Laden is assisted by a walking stick in his right hand and wears a blanket over his left shoulder. In another, he holds a Soviet-made assault rifle in his left hand.
The two climb to the hilltop and sit resting, looking out over the trees and rocky outcroppings, the camera behind them. The backdrop in the video resembles the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where U.S. officials believe bin Laden is hiding out.
There was nothing in the video itself to indicate when it was made. Al-Jazeera did not say how or when it obtained the tape.
Neither bin Laden nor his aide spoke on the video.
The videotape appeared to be shot during the course of one day. The light in each segment was the same and bin Laden's clothing was the same. He appeared to be cooperating with the cameraman, allowing him time to move ahead in order to get a series of shots of the al-Qaida leader walking toward the camera. Bin Laden several times looks over his shoulder, giving the impression he is being followed.
In one scene a small cluster of wildflowers can be seen, suggesting — given the apparent high altitude at which the video was shot — that the videotape was made in early summer. At such an altitude wild flowers would not be blooming in early September.
In the audiotape attributed to al-Zawahri, the speaker refers to U.S. troops in Iraq — an indication that it was made after American troops entered Iraq last March.
"We salute the mujahedeen brothers in Iraq and press on their hands and ask Allah to bless their sacrifices and valor in fighting the Crusaders," the speaker says. "We tell you that Allah is with you and the (Islamic) nation supports you. Depend on Allah. Devour the Americans just like the lions devour their prey. Bury them in the Iraqi graveyard."
The voice attributed to al-Zawahri also referred to the Sept. 11 anniversary.
"On the second anniversary of the raids on New York and Washington we challenge America and its Crusade, which is teetering from its wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq," the speaker says. "We tell them that we do not seek to kill, but we will chop off the hand which seeks to inflict harm on us, God willing."
In the audiotape, translated from the Arabic by The Associated Press, the voice said to be al-Zawahri's threatened more attacks on Americans.
"What you saw until now are only the first skirmishes," the voice says. "The true epic has not begun."
It says that the mothers of American soldiers should demand that the U.S. government return them home before they "return in coffins."
He accused the Americans of hiding the true number of their casualties.
On Aug. 3, the Al-Arabiya satellite station aired an audiotape purportedly from al-Zawahri warning that the United States would pay dearly if it harmed detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The United States said that tape was probably authentic.
The last tape attributed to al-Qaida was aired Aug. 18 on Al-Arabiya television. The speaker, claiming to be Saudi-born militant Abdur Rahman al-Najdi, called on Muslims around the world to travel to Iraq to fight the U.S.-led occupation.
Bin Laden is believed to have been in the border region since December 2001, when U.S. and Afghan troops surrounded a giant cave complex in the eastern Afghan region of Tora Bora. On Dec. 10, troops intercepted a radio transmission that was believed to have come from the al-Qaida leader.
U.S. warplanes blanketed the area with bombs, but the Americans relied largely on local Afghan forces on the ground. Hundreds of al-Qaida suspects are believed to have escaped across the border into Pakistan, and bin Laden may have been among them.