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Sheik in bin Laden videotape may be Saudi cleric

This man, believed by US officials to be Ali Ben Said al-Ghamdi, appears on the bin Laden video released Thursday.  

From David Ensor
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials said Friday they believe the sheik seen on a videotape with Osama bin Laden is Ali Ben Said al-Ghamdi, a former Islamic theology professor once jailed by the Saudi government.

On the videotape released by the U.S. government Thursday, the man thought to be al-Ghamdi flatters bin Laden and repeatedly praises him for organizing the attacks on New York and Washington. The man also suggests that he is aware of a further attack planned before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends Sunday.

Unnamed Saudi officials quoted in The New York Times describe al-Ghamdi as a militant cleric from the same tribe as several of the aircraft hijackers of September 11 -- a tribe from Saudi Arabia's Asir Province, north of the Saudi border with Yemen.

Al-Ghamdi was fired from his teaching post in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and briefly jailed. His detention was protested at the time by a Saudi dissident group known as the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights, according to U.S. officials.

The sheik appears to be paralyzed from the waist down, and Saudi analysts said that may be a result of injuries received in fighting either in Afghanistan or Chechnya. Neither U.S. nor Saudi officials could confirm that, however.

Outside analysts said he is a minor figure. But U.S. officials said that, given his meeting with bin Laden, they would like to find and question him


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