Al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, praised Islamic fighters in Afghanistan, according to an Internet audiotape posted on Friday, a day after Osama bin Laden warned of attacks in the US.
In Washington, a CIA spokeswoman said it was Zawahri's voice on the tape: "After conducting a technical analysis, the CIA concludes with high confidence that the voice on the tape is that of Ayman al-Zawahri."
A US counterterrorism official initially said the tape was several years old but then retracted the statement, saying that the date of the recording was uncertain.
"I am honored to recite this jihadist poem," Zawahri said, praising mujahidin fighters. "We shall remain true to our oath [with the Afghan mujahidin]."
The message emerged one day after bin Laden, al-Qaeda's leader, said the group was preparing attacks in the US but was open to a conditional truce with the Americans, according to an audiotape attributed to him.
In his 17-minute tape, Zawahri praised an Islamist Afghan poet, Mohebullah Kandahari: "The owner of the sword and pen, who carried both a machine gun and the Koran, known in scholarly circles ... and who could be seen in jihadi arenas from the time of the Russian communist attack on Afghanistan until the crusader raid [led by the US in 2001]."
The little-known Web site which carried the tape said it was new, but the US counter-terrorism official cast doubt on that assertion: "There is no reason to believe it was done recently. It could have been done at any time."
The last tape attributed to Zawahri was issued earlier this month. He said US President George W. Bush's plans to withdraw troops from Iraq meant that Washington had been defeated by the Muslims.