Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Al Qaeda Audiotape Is Both a Summons and a Tool of Terror ; This Week's Message Comes from Al Qaeda's No. 2 Official, Whose Previous Calls Were Followed by Attacks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Al Qaeda Audiotape Is Both a Summons and a Tool of Terror ; This Week's Message Comes from Al Qaeda's No. 2 Official, Whose Previous Calls Were Followed by Attacks

Article excerpt

The release of an audiotape purportedly made by Osama bin Laden's No. 2 agent is raising anxiety in US intelligence circles, and among the American public, about a possible imminent attack against the United States or its allies.

And perhaps with good reason.

Intelligence officials say that behind the latest broadcast - if it is authentic - are three possible motives:

* Code talk. As a possible exhortation to followers, it may deliver hidden instructions and spring plans into action. "It's never good news when [Ayman al-Zawahiri] speaks," says a senior intelligence official. "He spoke two days before the [1998] east Africa bombings ... and he spoke about 20 days before the bombing of the USS Cole [in 2000]."

* Sowing fear. In addition to its operational function, the message may have psychological aims, making headlines and terrorizing the public. Already, those ends have been servedt: The tape came a day after President Bush had raised the national terror alert to "high," and it prompted the deployment of antiaircraft missiles around Washington, beefed-up searches at airports and borders, and an increased police and military presence.

* Recruiting new members. The public rhetoric often, as with this tape, exploits current conflicts and portrays Muslims as under attack. And the dispatches assure followers that Al Qaeda leaders take care of their own.

Though US officials are still trying to authenticate the tape, most say the voice and rhetoric match Dr. Zawahiri's.

"Al Qaeda is not only trying to beat the US," the senior intelligence official says. "It is trying to create a lasting legacy of international insurgencies by supporting conflicts in the Philippines, Kashmir, Pakistan, Chechnya, inside Iraq, Malaysia, Indonesia - everywhere on earth ... there is an Islamic insurgency."

Despite the inroads the US has made - destruction of Al Qaeda's home base and arrests or deaths of several members, some very high- ranking - the recent attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco show the group retains the ability for simultaneous strikes.

"We have disrupted Al Qaeda, and driven it out of its principal sanctuary in Afghan-istan," Samuel Berger, former national security adviser to President Clinton, said at a Monitor breakfast Thursday. "We have hardly destroyed it. It has obviously reconstituted in some ways. It never was a highly centralized operation in the first place."

Zawahiri's latest talk, which experts say is much like ones he's given in the past, addresses the Iraq war and the fact that the US now - arguably - occupies more Muslim countries than ever before.

"After dividing Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, and Pakistan will come next," Zawahiri says. "What will be left around Israel is only dismembered semistates that are servants to the United States and Israel. …

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