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Saudi officials identify man on bin Laden tape

U.S. officials initially said they believed this man was a former professor, not al-Harbi.  

From Andrea Koppel
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Saudi citizen pictured conversing with Osama bin Laden about the September 11 terrorist attacks in a videotape released last week is a former Mujahedeen and war compatriot of bin Laden, not the man initially identified by U.S. officials, senior Saudi officials told CNN on Sunday.

Saudi officials said the man on the tape is Khaled al-Harbi, who fought with bin Laden against the Russians in Afghanistan about 20 years ago. On Friday, one day after the Pentagon released the videotape, U.S. officials said the man visiting bin Laden was Ali Sayeed al-Ghamdy, a former Islamic theology professor once imprisoned by the Saudi government.

But the man's tell-tale injury -- he has no legs -- led Saudi authorities to look elsewhere.

Officials believe the tape depicts bin Laden as the honoree at a dinner that includes several visitors, with al-Harbi being one of the most vocal.

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The Saudi government said al Harbi, about 38 or 39, fought with bin Laden against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Saudi officials believe al-Harbi returned to the battlefield in the mid-1990s, joining up with al Qaeda and losing at least one of his legs in combat.

That handicap caught the eyes of Saudi officials who saw the videotape last week, and convinced them the man could not be al-Ghamdy.

"We said, 'Wait a minute, he has no legs,'" one official recalled.

'Confusing' exchanges

A Saudi official attributed the mistaken identity to "confusing" exchanges between the al-Harbi, bin Laden and another guest in the room where most of the recorded dialogue took place.

In the video, al-Harbi sits to bin Laden's left, and says the word "sheik." Though al-Harbi was talking to another guest when he uttered the word, "he was actually talking about bin Laden," one senior Saudi official said.

The term "sheik," can refer to a religious scholar or can be used as a term of flattery, the official said. Some of bin Laden's supporters reportedly call him "sheik," though he does not have formal religious training.

"He was trying to suck up to bin Laden," the official said.

According to Saudi documents, al-Harbi was in Saudi Arabia on September 11, not leaving the country until September 21.


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