Video footage in which Osama bin Laden is shown meeting some of the hijackers responsible for the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington was aired last night on al-Jazeera television.
In the film Bin Laden is seen sitting with Mohammed Atef, a former lieutenant, and Ramzi Binal-shibh, another suspected planner of the suicide hijackings. Bin Laden is also shown greeting several of what the tape said were the hijackers.
The film, produced by As-Sahab, al-Qa'ida's media branch, was released as George Bush, for the fourth time in just eight days, tried to focus the country on his handling of the "war on terror", insisting that his administration had made the US far safer in the five years since the 11 September terror attacks.
"We have waged an unprecedented campaign against terrorism at home and abroad and that campaign has succeeded in protecting the homeland," Mr Bush said in Atlanta, Georgia, four days before the anniversary of the 2001 attacks. His latest speech came less than 24 hours after his surprise announcement of the transfer of 14 suspected terrorists from secret CIA prisons to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba.
One of those suspects, Ramzi Binalshibh, appeared in the footage shown on al-Jazeera last night. Binalshibh was captured four years ago in Pakistan and is being held in US custody. Atef, also known as Abu Hafs al-Masri, was killed in an attack by the US in Afghanistan in 2001.
The video shows Bin Laden dressed in a dark robe and white head gear walking outdoors in a mountainous area. Al-Jazeera did not say how it obtained the video. The station has screened numerous films airing Bin Laden and other al-Qa'ida supporters' views.
Yesterday Mr Bush also delivered a spirited defence of the Patriot Act, the 2001 measure renewed last March by Congress that increases the power of law enforcement agencies, but which critics say is a dangerous curtailment of civil liberties.
He insisted again that the programme of "warrantless" domestic wiretapping, run by the National Security Agency, was essential if the US was to protect itself from future terrorist attacks on its own soil.
With this series of public appearances, Mr Bush is seeking to imprint himself anew in the country's consciousness as he did in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, his finest hour, when he vowed to track down implacably those responsible for the worst terror attacks on the US mainland. …