U.S. has copy of purported bin Laden video; Bush administration says it is examining tape for authenticity
(NBC) WASHINGTON – The White House has obtained a copy of a purported video by Osama bin Laden ahead of the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and has begun to analyze its contents, a Bush administration official said Friday.
The official would not discuss the contents or say whether any conclusion has been reached about whether it’s really the al-Qaida leader.
Analysts noted that al-Qaida tends to mark the Sept. 11 anniversary with a slew of messages, and the Department of Homeland Security said it had no credible information warning of an imminent threat to the United States.
Bin Laden’s appearance — if authentic — would be significant because he has not appeared in new video footage since Oct. 29, 2004, and he has not put out a new audiotape in more than a year, his longest period without a message.
One difference in his appearance was immediately obvious. The announcement had a still photo from the coming video, showing bin Laden addressing the camera, his beard fully black. In his past videos, bin Laden’s beard was almost entirely gray with dark streaks.
Bin Laden’s beard appears to have been dyed, a popular practice among Arab leaders, said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Institute, a Washington-based group that monitors terror messages.
“I think it works for their (al-Qaida’s) benefit that he looks young, he looks healthy,” Katz said.
The announcement and photo appeared in a banner advertisement on an Islamic militant Web site where al-Qaida’s media arm, Al-Sahab, frequently posts messages.
“Soon, God willing, a videotape from the lion sheik Osama bin Laden, God preserve him,” the advertisement read, signed by Al-Sahab. Such announcements are usually put out one to three days before the video is posted on the Web.
Date of message unknown
Past videos released by al-Qaida and related groups have not all been current, instead comprising clips from previously released — or even previously unreleased — messages by bin Laden.
The CIA — and NBC News terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann — has been able to make the determinations quickly.
It is possible that the release of the video has been driven by reports that bin Laden is dead.
U.S. intelligence officials have been quoted, as they were before the 2004 tape, as saying there are equal bodies of evidence that bin Laden is alive or dead. The video, if current, would end that debate and give the jihadis a morale boost.
Timed to coincide with 9/11
The anniversary has always been a major media event for al-Qaida — a chance for it to drum up support among extremists, tout itself as the leading militant group and show off its continued survival.
“They’ve always gone out of their way to commemorate it,” said Ben Venzke, chief executive officer of IntelCenter, which monitors Islamic Web sites and analyzes terror threats. “Historically the anniversary of 9/11 has never been drawn to attacks. It’s drawn to video releases.”
But the fact that bin Laden is delivering the message is significant, he said. Whether the message will indicate a potential attack will depend on what bin Laden says.
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