U.S. Officials Look for Clues in Bin Laden Tape

ByABC News

Dec. 14, 2001 -- A day after the United States released a translated videotape that showed Osama bin Laden rejoicing over the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. intelligence officials were poring over the tape for clues that could help the crackdown on the al Qaeda network.

The Bush administration has said the apparently homemade tape, which was seized from an abandoned house in eastern Afghanistan and obtained by U.S. intelligence, was the "smoking gun" that proves bin Laden's direct responsibility for the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people.

The grainy videotape shows bin Laden describing how he and his close associates knew about the timing of the attacks days in advance and made estimates about the number of deaths that would result.

"[inaudible] We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower," bin Laden said, according to a translation released by the Pentagon along with the amateur videotape on Thursday.

"We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all," the Saudi-born militant is quoted as saying in apparent reference to the two hijacked jets that slammed into the World Trade Center.

Due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all we had hoped for," the translation reads.

"We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day," bin Laden says, according to the translation.

The White House said the tape is believed to have been shot Nov. 9 in the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar, which was the Taliban's spiritual capital.

The tape shows bin Laden at a dinner speaking to a gathering of his associates and well-wishers, who are off camera. However, seated to his right on camera was Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who is bin Laden's closest adviser, and to bin Laden's left, also on camera, was a visiting Saudi sheikh.

A senior U.S. intelligence official told ABNCEWS today that based on information provided by the Saudi government, U.S. officials believe Saudi sheik's last name is al Ghamdi. U.S. officials believe the sheikh's first name may be Suleiman.

In the tape, al Ghamdi periodically praises bin Laden for "a great job" and at one point indicates other attacks may be planned. "No doubt it is a clear victory...and he [Allah] will give us blessing and more victory during this holy month of Ramadan," he said. Most American Muslims will celebrate the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Sunday.

Senior al Qaeda spokesman Abu Ghaith also appears in the tape.

Mixed Reactions Around the World

At a Pentagon briefing in Washington on Thursday, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the tape, which shows bin Laden's calm yet chilling description of the Sept. 11 attacks, justifies the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.

"It should be clear from the very matter-of-fact way that he refers to the attacks that killed thousands of innocent people, from several dozen different countries, why terrorists and terrorism must be defeated before they get their hands on weapons of mass destruction," Rumsfeld said.

But while the tape met with reactions of revolt and disgust across the United States and most of the world, a day after the blurry videotape was released, reactions across the Arab world were mixed.

The Saudi ambassador to the United States said the tape displayed"the cruel and inhuman face of a murderous criminal" while UnitedArab Emirates Information Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zaidal-Nahayan said it "confirms [bin Laden's role] in a way thatleaves no room for doubt."

But while moderates and a few government-run news agencies described the tape as proof of bin Laden's involvement in the attacks, reporters across the Arab world said the tape was greeted with suspicion in columns, talk shows and coffeehouses across the region.

The Pakistani government meanwhile said the tape was proof of bin Laden's involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks and it praised President Pervez Musharraf's decision to support Washington in its military campaign in Afghanistan.

The tape was released with English subtitles. According to the Pentagon, the translation was prepared independently by George Michael, a translator from the Diplomatic Language Services, and Kassem M. Wahba, the Arabic language program coordinator from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

They collaborated on their translation and compared it with translations done by the U.S. government for consistency, the Pentagon said.

Bin Laden: Some Hijackers Kept in Dark

The video, which starts and stops, is hard to hear, and is taped over some unrelated material, shows the alleged terrorist mastermind describing a meeting he held with his top associates on Sept. 11.

On the video, bin Laden says he and his friends turned on the radio on Sept. 11 at 5:30 p.m. local time — about 9 a.m. in New York City. Immediately, he says, they heard about the first plane hitting one of the trade towers, and his associates were "overjoyed," bin Laden is translated as saying. "So I said to them: be patient."

Bin Laden says he and his friends continued listening to the radio, and soon, "they announced that another plane had hit the World Trade Center. The brothers who heard the news were overjoyed by it."

According to the tape, bin Laden also told associates that some of the Sept. 11 hijackers did not know about the details of their mission until just before they boarded the planes.

"The brothers, who conducted the operation, all they knew was that they have a martyrdom operation and we asked each of them to go to America but they didn't know anything about the operation, not even one letter," he said, according to the translation of bin Laden's remarks. "But they were trained and we did not reveal the operation to them until they are there and just before they boarded the planes."

On the tape, bin Laden also confirms what U.S. officials have believed about Mohamed Atta, who is thought to have piloted American Airlines Flight 11 when it hit the World Trade Center — that he was the ringleader of the 19 hijackers. "Mohamed [Atta] from the Egyptian family was in charge of the group," bin Laden is quoted as saying.

At the White House on Thursday, spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush "has known all along that Osama bin Laden was behind this. It came as no surprise to the president," he said.

As the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan continues, bin Laden is still on the run. A $25 million reward has been posted for information leading to his capture. "We think he's in Afghanistan. We are chasing him. He is hiding. He does not want us to know where he is," Rumsfeld said.

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