Fugitive al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden emerged yesterday with a dramatic pre-election appeal to Americans, coupled with a stark warning that they face more attacks like that of Sept 11, 2001, unless their leaders stop waging war against the world's Muslims.
“To the American people, my message to you is about the ideal way to avoid another Manhattan,” he said in a videotaped message. He was referring to the suicide hijackings that destroyed New York's World Trade Center towers, killing nearly 3,000 people in history's most spectacular and deadly terrorist attack.
“Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al-Qaeda,” Mr. bin Laden told Americans, referring to the two presidential candidates and the radical Islamic organization he founded. “Your security is in your own hands. Any state that does not harm our security has naturally guaranteed its own security.”
Both President George W. Bush and his Democrat challenger, Senator John Kerry, quickly denounced Mr. bin Laden's overture.
The pre-election intervention by the world's most hunted man, an iconic figure to millions of Muslims, could tip the balance in the razor-thin U.S. presidential race, but it remained uncertain how the two campaigns would attempt to use his appearance to their advantage.
The al-Qaeda leader, bearded and turbaned, wearing a gold-coloured cloak over white robes, spoke clearly and calmly in his first videotaped appearance in more than a year, occasionally punctuating his message with gestures of his right hand.
His left arm, which is reputed to be disabled, hung limply, but there was no other indication to support occasional rumours that he was deathly ill or had been seriously injured.
His appearance pointedly underscored the U.S. failure, for more than three years, to kill or capture him. Only a one-minute segment of the 18-minute videotape was broadcast by Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arab-language news channel.
There was no indication when the message was taped, and in the portion that was broadcast, no mention was made of Iraq. U.S. officials said they believed the tape was authentic and recently made.
Al-Jazeeza said it received the video Thursday.
Mr. bin Laden saved his harshest attacks for Mr. Bush, accusing the President of failing to react quickly enough to save many of those in the Trade Center towers.
“When they needed him most ... he thought a child discussing her goat and its ramming was more important than the planes and their ramming of the skyscrapers,” the al-Qaeda leader charged.
He was referring to Mr. Bush's initial decision to continue reading a story to kindergarten students in a Florida classroom when he was told of the first plane striking the World Trade Center.
He compared the President and his father to corrupt ruling Arab families, adding that their greed might keep them in power for decades.
“Bush is still deceiving you and hiding the truth from you, and therefore the reasons are still there to repeat” more attacks, he said.
Mr. bin Laden, once a wealthy Saudi playboy, offered a new and suspect explanation for when he decided to order the suicide hijackings to topple U.S. skyscrapers.
“As I watched the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me to punish the unjust the same way ... to destroy towers in America so that it can taste some of what we are tasting and to stop killing our children and women,” he said.
Although he claimed he had the idea while watching television footage of Israeli warplanes bombing tall buildings in Beirut in 1982, Mr. bin Laden didn't transform himself into an Islamic radical until several years later.