Osama bin Laden injected last-minute uncertainty into the US election campaign on Saturday as his threat to the US sparked an angry new debate between President George W. Bush and Democratic rival John Kerry.
Bush told top security officials to take all necessary steps to secure tomorrow's vote, while a furor between the candidates broke out over Kerry's response to the bin Laden tape. The two sides accused each other of seeking political gain from the al-Qaeda leader's intervention in the campaign.
"The president did direct them to make sure we were taking all actions that might be necessary," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said after Bush spoke to his domestic security team.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was with the president in Grand Rapids, Michigan when Bush conducted a secure videolink conference with CIA Director Porter Goss, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Ridge said later that the nationwide terrorist alert level would not be raised despite the video.
The mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks shocked the US with his warning that US voters will be held accountable for any leader who seeks to persecute Muslims.
"Your security is not in the hands of Kerry, Bush or al-Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands. Any state which does not play havoc with our security would automatically ensure its own security," bin Laden said.
Without making a direct threat regarding new attacks, he said, "The reasons to repeat what happened remain."
Bush and Kerry gave tough responses, but the unity quickly gave way to bitter recriminations.
In a television interview, Kerry vowed to hunt down and kill terrorists, and said the US was united in that desire.
Then, emphasizing one of his campaign themes, he said Bush should have snared bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 2001 war.
He renewed the attack on Saturday in Appleton, Wisconsin, one of the key swing states expected to decide the election.
"Let me make it clear to people all across the world: As Americans, we are all absolutely united, all of us. There are no Democrats, there are no Republicans," Kerry told a rally.
"As I have said for two years now, when Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, it was wrong to outsource the job of capturing them to Afghan warlords who a week earlier were fighting against us," Kerry said.
Kerry said the president should instead have used "the best-trained troops in the world, who wanted to avenge America for what happened in New York and Pennsylvania and in Washington" on Sept. 11.
Bush called the charges "shameful."