Bin Laden tape backing holy war is genuine, the CIA believes

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The latest tape of Osama bin Laden calling on Muslims to keep up a holy war against the United States is almost certainly genuine, American and British authorities said yesterday. In Washington, a CIA spokesman said a technical analysis indicated the voice in the tape, broadcast on the al-Jazeera satellite channel and which referred to the capture of Saddam Hussein on 13 December, probably was that of the al-Qa'ida leader.

In London, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said he had no confirmation that the voice on the tape was Bin Laden's but that it was a safe assumption. "There is no question that the al-Qa'ida organisation and its networks are still around. And as far as we know, Osama bin Laden is still alive," Mr Straw told the BBC.

In Bin Laden's message, he warned that the war which toppled Saddam was the beginning of the "occupation by the crusaders" of all the Gulf states. He urged his fellow Muslims to "continue the jihad to check the conspiracies that are hatched against the Islamic nation".

As on previous occasions, the speaker criticised leaders of Islamic countries for their failure to press the US on the Palestinian issue, and for not extending more support to Palestinians resisting the Israeli occupation.

"The occupation of Iraq is the beginning of the full occupation of the other Gulf states," the tape declared. It argued that the region was "the key for control of the world" for the West because of its oil wealth.

Assuming the tape is authentic,it would be the first by Bin Laden broadcast by the Arabic-language TV network since October. That tape and earlier videos of Bin Laden and his Egyptian-born deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have convinced US intelligence that the pair escaped the US assault on Afghanistan in late 2001. Their most likely whereabouts today is the tribal-ruled north-western region of Pakistan, near the Afghan border.

"It is Bin Laden's superb and special Arabic language that is very hard to emulate," Ibrahim Hilal, al-Jazeera's editor-in-chief, said. "It is undoubtedly his voice, his style, and the typical examples from history he uses."