In the first interview he has given since 11 September, Osama bin Laden claims that his terrorist al-Qa'ida network possesses nuclear and chemical weapons and is prepared to use them.
Speaking to Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist, on Wednesday, he said: "I wish to declare that if America used chemical or nuclear weapons against us then we may retort with chemical and nuclear weapons as deterrent." He declined to say where the weapons came from, or to give any other details.
In the version of the interview published simultaneously in an Urdu-language newspaper yesterday, Mr bin Laden makes no mention of nuclear or chemical weapons, but the journalist yesterday confirmed that he had indeed made the comments as reported. The speculation here is that the explicit reference was dropped in the vernacular report for fear of alarming Pakistan's majority Urdu-speaking population.
Mr bin Laden also came closer than ever before to admitting his organisation's involvement in the 11 September attacks.
The interview took place at a secret location near Kabul. Mr Mir was blindfolded, put in a four-wheel-drive and taken, he wrote, "to a place where it was extremely cold and one could hear the sound of anti-aircraft guns firing away. After a wait of some time, Osama arrived with about a dozen bodyguards and Dr Ayman al-Zuwahiri [his Egyptian deputy] and answered questions."
In photographs accompanying the article, Mr bin Laden is shown next to Mr Mir, with the obligatory Kalashnikov in between. In another photo the al-Qa'ida leader poses next to Dr Al-Zuwahiri, his physician and the man said to be the creative brain behind the organisation's atrocities.
The journalist asked Mr bin Laden if he could justify the killing of innocent people, including many Muslims, in the 11 September attacks. He replied: "America and its allies are massacring us in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir and Iraq. The Muslims have the right to attack America in reprisal ... The American people should remember that they pay taxes to their government, they elect their president, their government manufactures arms and gives them to Israel and Israel uses them to massacre Palestinians ... The entire America [sic] is responsible for the atrocities against Muslims."
Mr bin Laden went on: "The mission is to spread the word of God, not to indulge massacring people. We ourselves are the target of killings, destruction and atrocities. We are only defending ourselves. That is why I say that if we don't get security, the Americans, too, would not get security."
Mr Mir has interviewed Mr bin Laden twice previously, and is said to be working on his "official biography". The Urdu press has a reputation for running fanciful stories, but the fact that Dawn, Pakistan's most solid and longest-established English-language paper, also ran the story puts its veracity beyond serious doubt.
Mr bin Laden reserved his harshest words for Pakistan's President Musharraf. "We have been disappointed" by Pakistan's military ruler, he said. "He says that the majority is with him. I say the majority is against him ... He will be punished by the Pakistani people and Allah."
Last night Tony Blair's spokesman accused Mr bin Laden of condemning himself as a terrorist by his threats. "It makes it absolutely clear that his political beliefs are solely to do with the Talibanisation of Arab countries," said the spokesman. "As his ravings become more demented, they expose him for what he is – a terrorist, pure and simple."Reuse content