Sat, Jan 21, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Osama bin Laden warns of attacks, offers `truce'

AFP , DUBAI

In his first message in more than a year, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden warned of pending attacks in the "heartland" of the US, but also offered a "long-term truce" if US troops withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan -- a proposal rejected by the White House, which said: "We do not negotiate with terrorists."

The recording was aimed at quashing rumors of his death and warning the Western world its most wanted man remains a major threat, analysts said yesterday.

"There is nothing really new in the message. The real objective is to say that he is alive, still the leader of al-Qaeda and a main player in world politics," al-Qaeda expert Abdel Bari Atwan said.

The audiotape was broadcast on Thursday by the al-Jazeera satellite television network and authenticated by the CIA. US Vice President Dick Cheney said on Thursday that the tape was "a ploy" and that "this is not an organization that is ever going to sit down and sign a truce. I think you have to destroy them. It's the only way to deal with them."

Cheney also said bin Laden's terrorist network had been driven "underground," but he warned al-Qaeda was still lethal.

The new tape marks the first time that bin Laden has been heard from in more than a year, his silence adding to feverish speculation about the fate of the man behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

US intelligence officials believe bin Laden is holed up in a remote mountainous region on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Bin Laden basically wants to respond to those who have claimed that he was either sick or dead, as for about a year it has been his deputy [Ayman] al-Zawahiri who had been putting out tapes," Atwan said.

"He may also have wanted to issue the tape because he knows that the United States have [sic] achieved some successes recently, with the capture of prominent militants and the latest airstrike in Pakistan," he said.

Four al-Qaeda militants are said to have been killed in a raid last Friday by a CIA Predator drone in the remote Pakistani Banjur tribal area, possibly including al-Zawahiri's son-in-law and a bomber on the US's most wanted list.

The release of bin Laden's first recording in over a year may be an attempt by al-Qaeda to demonstrate that it has not been weakened by the attack, said Rahimullah Yousafzai, a Pakistan-based expert on Afghan affairs.

"The timing of the tape seems to be linked with the Bajur incident," Yousafzai said. "They were waiting for a proper time. Bin Laden wanted to tell Americans that not only al-Zawahiri but he was also alive."

Atwan, who once interviewed bin Laden in 1996, said bin Laden "knows that the US cannot accept a truce from him, so his proposal is a way to present himself as a political player."

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