Tape doesn’t convince many in Mideast

By Nadia Abou El-Magd

Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt – Osama Bin Laden’s latest tape left some viewers in the Mideast unconvinced of his involvement in the Sept. 11 terror attacks and suspicious of U.S. motives in publicizing the tape.

“Of course it is fabricated,” said Dia’a Rashwan, a Cairo-based expert on Islamic movements, as he watched the tape Thursday on the Qatari satellite channel Al-Jazeera. “If this is the kind of evidence that America has, then the blood of thousands who died and were injured in Afghanistan is on (President) Bush’s head.”

In much of the Mideast, public opinion has been solidly against the United States, accused of hurting innocent fellow Muslims with its war on terrorism. Before the Bush administration released the tape Thursday, several U.S. officials had said they hoped it could help convince the world of bin Laden’s guilt.

Moderate Arab governments back the U.S. war on terrorism and accept that bin Laden masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks. But anti-U.S. sentiment on the streets has led those governments to keep quiet about support that ranges from providing staging grounds for U.S. warplanes to passing on intelligence about militants to U.S. investigators.

Because the quality of the audio was so poor, most Arabs listening to the tape could not follow what bin Laden was saying, lessening its potential impact in the Arab world. Several Arab satellite channels, including the influential Al-Jazeera station, showed the tape with English subtitles.

“Is that possible! I can’t believe bin Laden did it. The translation is wrong and we hardly heard his voice. America just wants to implicate Muslims,” said Nadia Saqr, an Egyptian mother of two.

Even engineer Ahmed El-Dermerdash, who said the tape left no doubt in his mind that bin Laden was guilty, said he would have preferred “to listen to a clear version of the tape rather than rely on English subtitles.”

A linguist hired by the U.S. government to translate the tape prepared an Arabic transcript. But the Pentagon didn’t release the Arabic transcript or a version of the tape – which has poor sound quality – with Arabic subtitles. Administration officials gave no explanation for the decision.

In Kuwait, Ahmed Bishara, who heads the National Democratic Movement, said the tape “is not going to make a big switch in opinion. … It will put the icing on the cake.”

Fouad Al-Hashem, a columnist for Al-Watan daily, said the tape “blew away all the efforts of Muslim fundamentalist movements to distance bin Laden from the attack.”

“We have always wondered what the devil looks like. Today, we got to see him in the person of that man (bin Laden),” said Al-Hashem.

Jordanian political analyst Labib Kamhawi said Thursday’s video at the most showed bin Laden praising the attacks, but “does not prove that bin Laden was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.”

But Mohamed Salah, an Egyptian expert on militant Islamic movements who writes for the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, believes bin Laden left the tape for Americans to find in Afghanistan because he wanted the world to know of his role in Sept. 11.

Bin Laden no longer has anything to lose by claiming responsibility, Salah said.

“Bin Laden wanted to show America that he is steadfast following the war, not defeated and still strong,” Salah said.

Mohamed al-Amir al-Sayed Awad Atta, a 65-year-old retired Cairo lawyer, didn’t watch the tape. So Atta did not hear bin Laden identify his son as the leader of the cell that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.

Told of bin Laden’s comment by The Associated Press, Atta was angry and skeptical. In a telephone interview, he declared the tape a “farce.”

“America is the land of aberration and forgery,” Atta said, shouting “damn America!” before abruptly hanging up.

The elder Atta, a retired lawyer, has maintained his son, also named Mohamed, might have been kidnapped and his papers stolen to implicate him in the attacks.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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