Thursday, December 16, 2004

Purported new bin Laden tape criticizes Saudi royals

Voice references December 6 attack in Saudi Arabia
From Henry Schuster

(CNN) -- A new audiotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden and referencing the December 6 attack on the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, appeared on Arabic Web sites Thursday.

The voice on the tape says instability in Saudi Arabia is due to the regime there and not the action of the jihadis.

"While the struggle in Saudi Arabia appears to be internal, it is part of the struggle between believers and non-believers" of Islam, the speaker said.

Near the end of the approximately 70-minute tape, the speaker asks for God's blessings for "our brothers who stormed the American consulate in Jeddah."

"We pray to Allah to accept the mujahedeen who stormed the U.S. consulate in Jeddah as martyrs," the speaker says.

Also on the tape is deep criticism of the Saudi royal family.

"Millions are suffering poverty, while rials (Saudi currency) pour into the hands of the Saudi royal family."

Al Qaeda expert Paul Eedle, who says the voice on the tape appears to be that of bin Laden, says the main message of the recording is a call for the overthrow of the Saudi royal family.

"It's an enormously detailed piece of invective against the Saudi royal family and against other Arab rulers accusing them of being puppets of what Osama bin Laden calls a crusaders-Zionist alliance led by America, which is seeking to steal the wealth and occupy the lands of Muslims," Eedle said.

The CIA is conducting a technical analysis to determine whether the recording is authentic, but due to its poor quality, it may take longer than usual, CNN's David Ensor reported.

U.S. officials say the recording appears to be another effort by bin Laden to appear relevant and in command, even though he's in hiding and out of contact with al Qaeda operatives in his native Saudi Arabia, Ensor reported.

Eedle said bin Laden may also have wanted to lend his "very powerful voice" to planned protests in Riyadh and Jeddah on Thursday against the Saudi royal family, which were organized by the Saudi opposition movement based in London.

A Saudi militant group with ties to al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the December 6 attack in Jeddah, posting its claim on several Islamist Web sites often used by militants.

Five consular employees -- four local staff members and a contract guard -- were killed. Four other local staff members were wounded.

Saudi forces killed three of the gunmen and captured two others, both of whom were wounded, the Saudi Interior Ministry said. One of gunmen later died.

In April, the State Department ordered "nonemergency employees and all dependents of the U.S. Embassy Riyadh and Consulates General Jeddah and Dhahran ... to leave the country," because of security concerns, and urged Americans to defer travel to the kingdom.

As recently as August, a vehicle from the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah was hit by gunfire from a single assailant while driving in the city. The two occupants of the vehicle -- the driver and a consulate American employee, were not injured in the attack.

Al Qaeda-led suicide attacks struck Riyadh housing compounds in May and July of 2003, killing 40 people, most of them Muslims.

In a videotape that aired in November, bin Laden's right-hand man pledged to continue fighting the United States until it changes its policies regarding Muslims.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, in tape broadcast by the Arabic-language Al-Jazeera television network, said there are two ways to deal with Muslims -- "either with respect, or as if our lives and property are available for you to invade."

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