Tape Attributed to Al Qaeda Deputy Chief
Washington Post, May 22, 2003
By Peter Finn, Washington Post Foreign Service
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, May 21 — In an audiotape broadcast today, a man identified as the deputy head of the al Qaeda network called on Muslims to attack Western facilities across the world, kill Western civilians and Jews, and “turn the ground beneath their feet into an inferno.”
Broadcast by al-Jazeera television as the United States and Saudi Arabia braced for possible new attacks, the statement was attributed to Ayman Zawahiri, a physician who founded Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which merged with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda. There was no immediate confirmation that the voice was that of Zawahiri, who is presumed to have been in hiding since U.S. attacks in Afghanistan began in October 2001.
U.S. officials have said that al Qaeda has been crippled by more than a year and a half of manhunts and military strikes. The tape appeared to be an effort by remaining members of the network to taunt the United States and its allies in the Arab world and to elicit support for new assaults.
“The crusaders and the Jews only understand the language of murder and bloodshed and are only convinced by coffins, destroyed interests, burning towers and a shattered economy,” said the voice on the tape.
“Be strong, O Muslims, and attack the missions of the United States, the U.K., Australia and Norway and their interests, companies and employees. Turn the ground beneath their feet into an inferno and kick them out of your countries.”
The tape, which appeared to have been edited, has heavy background noise. A CIA spokesman said that intelligence technicians and analysts were scrutinizing the tape, but that the analysis is particularly difficult because of its poor quality. Also, there are “no nuggets that would give you a hint” whether it is Zawahiri speaking, the spokesman said.
It was not clear from the text when the tape was made, but it does include references to the war in Iraq, which suggests it might have been recorded during the conflict.
“O Iraqi people, we have defeated those crusaders several times before and kicked them out of our countries and sanctities,” said the man. “Know that you are not alone in this battle.”
In what could be a reference to pending attacks, the man said, “The next few days will reveal to you news that will gladden your hearts, God willing.”
Though Saudi Arabia is a close U.S. ally, bin Laden has enjoyed substantial public support here. But Saudi officials said today that if al Qaeda hopes the new tape will bolster that sentiment, it will find that the bombings last week in Riyadh have changed popular opinion. Al Qaeda has “lost most of the support they used to be able to muster with these tapes,” said a Saudi official.
The triple bombings on May 12 killed 25 civilians, including Saudis and other Arabs and Muslims; four days later, a number of Moroccans were among the 29 people killed by suicide bombers in Casablanca.
Today, Saudi television quoted Prince Nayef, the interior minister, as denying that two Moroccans arrested at Jiddah Airport on Monday had intended to hijack a Sudan-bound plane and crash it into a site in the city. But other Saudi officials reiterated reports that there was such a plot.
The two Moroccan men were said to have been detained at passport control after immigration authorities thought they were behaving suspiciously. One Saudi official said authorities believe the target was the National Commercial Bank, the tallest high-rise in Jiddah.
With police manning special roadblocks and the U.S. Embassy and other Western embassies closed, Saudi Arabia remained on a state of high alert today because of intelligence indicating impending attacks.
Last October, al-Jazeera broadcast what was said to be the voice of Zawahiri, speaking on the anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. The satellite TV network has also broadcast a number of videotapes and audiotapes made since Sept. 11, 2001, by bin Laden, a Saudi who was stripped of his citizenship by the government.
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said he had spoken to the foreign minister of Qatar, which provides funding for al-Jazeera, to complain about the airing of the tape. “All it does is heighten tensions throughout the region, allowing terrorists to have this kind of access to the airwaves,” he told reporters.
Powell added that he thought Qatar was “taking some action” in response. In a statement, the State Department said, “We expect the Qataris will take immediate steps to prevent any repeat of this activity.”
Intelligence analysts say Zawahiri and bin Laden are likely hiding in the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands.
U.S. and Saudi officials say that another Egyptian, Saif Adel, has assumed control of al Qaeda’s military committee and is issuing orders from a hiding place in Iran.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said on Tuesday that there was “no question” some al Qaeda members were in Iran. He added that there was speculation about their involvement in last week’s bombings in Saudi Arabia.
Iranian officials deny the accusations. Suspicions that senior al Qaeda figures were in Iran, including Adel and one of bin Laden’s sons, surfaced a year ago.
“The only al Qaeda members that we know of are the ones that have been expelled from Iran,” a spokesman for the Iranian government, Abdollah Ramazanzadeh, said at a news conference in Tehran. The purported Zawahiri tape also condemned Arab countries for supporting the U.S. war effort, naming Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. And it berated Muslims who expressed their opposition in peaceful ways.
“Protests, demonstrations and conferences are of no use to you,” the voice on the tape said. “The only thing that will benefit you is carrying arms and spiting your enemies, the Americans and Jews.”
One Saudi who allegedly took up arms was Abdul Kareem Yazijy, 35, a suspected member of the cell that carried out the suicide bombings here last week. It is unclear if Yazijy was killed in the attacks, because only three of the nine bombers who died have been positively identified.
But at his family home in Riyadh today, Yazijy’s younger brother, Abdullah, called on him to turn himself in. “Whatever the authorities will do to you is not worse than what you are thinking of doing,” Abdullah Yazijy said in a plea spoken to two American journalists.
Yazijy said his brother, the third of eight children in a family of civil servants, disappeared about 18 months ago. He said his brother had a long history of “emotional instability.”
He said his mother, in particular, wants to believe her son had nothing to do with the bombings. But he reluctantly outlined his brother’s past, which is familiar to investigators.
Yazijy said his brother went to Afghanistan for a few months in 1990 after Soviet forces withdrew from the country and he later worked for two years in Sarajevo, Bosnia, for a Saudi charity. That charity, the Supreme Committee for the Collection of Donations for Bosnia-Herzegovina, was raided in 2002 because of suspected links to al Qaeda.
On May 6, Abdul Kareem Yazijy’s face was shown on Saudi television as one of 19 men being sought by authorities following the discovery of a major arms cache. Six days later came the bombings.
“This man brought disaster to the whole family,” said Zakaria Yazijy, Abdul Kareem’s nephew. “He is a crisis in the family, like a demon.”
“What,” Abdullah Yazijy asked plaintively, “do the Americans think of us?”
Staff writers Glenn Kessler and Dana Priest in Washington contributed to this report.