WASHINGTON -- U.S. intelligence have concluded that a new audiotape of Osama bin Laden is an authentic, unaltered and recent recording of the al-Qaida leader, U.S. officials said Monday
"Intelligence experts do believe that the tape is genuine," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "And it is clear that the tape was made in the last several weeks as well."
The technical analysis of the tape furnished the first proof in almost a year that bin Laden is alive.
The audiotape, broadcast on the al-Jazeera Arab language television network, is what it sounds like: bin Laden himself, reading a prepared statement promising new terrorism against the United States and its allies, a U.S. intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said earlier Monday.
The analysis of the tape was performed by technical experts, linguists and translators at the CIA and National Security Agency, who compared the message to previous recordings of bin Laden. While no analysis is 100 percent certain, the experts are as certain as they can be that it is genuine, the official said.
'It's a reminder'
Because it mentions recent terrorist attacks, officials concluded the tape was made in the last few weeks, the official said. It had been a year since U.S. intelligence received any definitive evidence that bin Laden had survived the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan in the months after Sept. 11.
Asked about the tape at the a White House briefing, McClellan said that while "it cannot be stated with 100 percent certainty," intelligence experts were still certain bin Laden's voice on the tape.
"They do believe it is. It's a reminder that we need to continue doing everything we can to go after these terrorist networks and their leaders wherever they are, and we will," McClellan said.
The tape gives little clue to bin Laden's location or his health, officials said. Although his whereabouts are unknown, U.S. officials believe he is probably hiding in a remote mountainous region in the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
American officials have never confirmed rumors that bin Laden was wounded or suffering some kind of kidney ailment.
Factor in terror alerts
The message also was a determining factor in a new spate of terror alerts in the United States and elsewhere last week. Previous public statements from bin Laden have served as preludes to terrorist attacks, officials said.
The speaker on the tape appears to refer to the killing of a U.S. diplomat in Amman, Jordan, on Oct. 28, the most recent event noted in the transcript. Whether bin Laden or al-Qaida had a direct hand in the attack is unknown, U.S. officials said.
The speaker also praises several more terrorist attacks by suspected Islamic militants between April and October, including the bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, on Oct. 12, that left close to 200 people dead, and the Chechen takeover of a theater in Moscow, in late October.
Previously, the last certain evidence bin Laden was alive was recorded on Nov. 9, 2001, when he had dinner with his chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, his spokesman and others. A videotape of the meal was recovered by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and later aired internationally.
Late in December, another tape of bin Laden giving a statement aired. He appeared gaunt and possibly wounded. The references in the tape suggested it was filmed in late November or early December, but officials could not be certain.
On Dec. 10, in the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan where bin Laden was believed to be hiding, U.S. personnel intercepted a radio transmission that was believed to have come from the al-Qaida leader. But it was not recorded and never matched against his voiceprint, U.S. officials have said.
U.S. intelligence has confirmed several tapes released earlier in 2002 to have come from bin Laden, who is believed to have led the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington that left some 3,000 dead. However, those tapes gave no reference to recent events, and provided no confirmation of whether al-Qaida's leader was still alive.