Film shows bin Laden's men, ready to take on America

War on Terrorism: Video
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The Independent Online

If he fears the wrath of the "Great Satan", as he calls America, he doesn't show it. Calm – almost serene – filmed before the devastating attacks of 11 September that would horrify the world, Osama bin Laden inspects his troops.

And if US and British intelligence are correct, Mr bin Laden would already have known of the terror to come.

These images were frozen from a film screened yesterday by the Qatar television station Al-Jazeera, the same operation that purportedly received a fax from Mr bin Laden last week urging Muslims to resist the infidels in the coming waves of what "Stormin'" Norman Schwarzkopf described during the Gulf war as "maximum violence" – the terrible might of American military fury.

In the background are the Saudi dissident's men, raising their AK-47s and cheering. They will face multiple rocket systems that can shred everything in a half-mile square and may have to endure days or weeks of carpet bombing. Their ancient Russian armour will be no match for tank-busting helicopters. Looking like a 19th-century rabble, they are ready to face their 21st-century pursuers. They are prepared to die, and they may have to.

Of concern for Western analysts is what the film appears to show; the arrival at a secret desert camp of Ayman al-Zawahri, Mr bin Laden's right hand man, bringing his Egyptian al-Jihad group to swell the numbers of the al-Qa'ida network thought to have been responsible for the attacks in New York and Washington.

Al-Zawahri's group has been linked to the assassination of the Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat, 20 years ago today. Mr al-Zawahri's decision to join al-Qa'ida has led to a split within al-Jihad, some of whose members feared taking on the United States.

During the film, dozens of newly trained recruits are shown in uniform, the camera angled to obscure their faces, while an unidentified supporter makes a speech.

The terrain looks barren and inhospitable. And though in one frame, the bin Laden camp, with its feeble tents, looks exposed, another shot shows that it is defended by tall, sheer mountains. The message to the forces of the West is clear: attacking on the ground is nigh on impossible – as the British and Russians found to their cost. And American politicians, wary of a high body count, will remember that during the mujahedin's fight against the Soviet Union, they kept the Afghans well supplied with surface-to-air missiles.

Al-Jazeera has often been the first source of tapes and statements from Mr bin Laden. He has often granted the station interviews, and gave it videos when he had a message to relay to the world.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the channel said the film came from Mr bin Laden, and was not shot by its own crew. He added: "The footage was not of Osama bin Laden from after the attacks on the World Trade Centre. It is of Osama bin Laden and the leader of the Egyptian al-Jihad organisation celebrating the setting up of the joint organisation."

The last time Mr bin Laden was seen in public was February, at the wedding of his son in Kandahar, south-east Afghanistan. Then, he spoke to the assembled men of the suicide bombing a year ago of the USS Cole in Yemen, in which 17 American sailors died.

"The pieces of the bodies of infidels were flying like dust particles," he said. "If you had seen it with your own eyes ... your heart would have been filled with joy."