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Correspondents: Tape takes threatening tone

CNN correspondents David Ensor, left, and Mike Boettcher
CNN correspondents David Ensor, left, and Mike Boettcher

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An audiotaped statement purported to be from Osama bin Laden praises recent terror attacks in Yemen, Kuwait, Bali and Moscow as a response "to how the Muslims have been treated." The message was broadcast Tuesday by the Arab news network Al-Jazeera. CNN Security Correspondent David Ensor and CNN National Correspondent Mike Boettcher talked with anchor Wolf Blitzer about the tape.

BLITZER: Let's go to David Ensor for what he's hearing about this breaking development.

ENSOR: Well, Wolf, they are obviously comparing this voice tape with other voice tapes of Osama bin Laden, and officials I've spoken to so far say it does sound like bin Laden. However, they say they don't want to say for sure that they're sure it's him.

They feel that this is an important enough matter given the fact that bin Laden refers to recent events on the tape, and if it's really him, it shows he's alive, for starters. They don't want to say authoritatively, yet whether it's him but it does look that way or sound that way I should say.

BLITZER: I assume they will be using sophisticated equipment to try to make sure this is someone who's not simply trying to be an impostor, trying to emulate Osama bin Laden's voice.

ENSOR: Absolutely. This is something that the U.S. is fairly good at. The National Security Agency, the signals intelligence agency for the U.S. government, listens to thousands of hours of tapes of various kinds every day. They're very good at separating one voice from another.

BLITZER: Mike Boettcher ... you've been doing some digging, trying to understand like the rest of us whether or not this might be the real thing. What are you hearing, Mike?

BOETTCHER: I'm hearing from people who know his voice who say that it surely sounds like him, and David pointed out the voice analysis. The other thing that will be done that was done with previous audio tapes released by al Qaeda, they will take them to detainees in Guantanamo and other parts of the world and get their analysis of them, and also see if they can detect any messages embedded in these tapes. So, they'll do it both technically and with human intelligence.

BLITZER: As they try to assess this latest tape, what is their initial inclination, the experts with whom you've been discussing this matter?

BOETTCHER: Well ... the inclination is it is him. It was released through Al-Jazeera and as far as I know, Al-Jazeera has not in the past broadcast phony audiotape. The interesting thing about this is a couple of things. This is the first time that Osama bin Laden has given a message that was not addressed to his followers. This is addressed to the anti-terrorist coalition, the people, the citizens of those countries.

The second thing is it shows that they feel a little bit better about their position, obviously, that they're able to get an audiotape out this quickly, but not good enough about their position to release a videotape that could give away their position, wherever they're at right now.

BLITZER: David Ensor, let me bring you back for a moment. In your conversation with some sources here in Washington, knowledgeable sources, have they gone through the substance of the actual remarks bin Laden is reportedly making on this tape?

ENSOR: They're in the process of doing that, Wolf, but they haven't got any conclusions really to offer us yet on it.

BLITZER: And as far as the substantive remarks, Mike Boettcher, it sounds, at least the snippets that I've heard a lot of propaganda, trying in effect to rally the troops, bolster the morale, is that what you're getting?

BOETTCHER: Well, it was very threatening, very, very threatening in its tone, more so than any Osama bin Laden message, audiotape, videotape or written [message] I've seen. He says as you kill, you shall be killed, and it was directly attacking the anti-terror coalition and, again, it was showing his troops, his operatives out there that he is still alive.

BLITZER: And, David Ensor, this audiotape, in the past as we all know, we've seen videotapes of Osama bin Laden. Should we make anything of the fact that there's only his voice if, in fact, it is his voice as opposed to seeing what he actually might look like right now?

ENSOR: Well, there are analysts who believe that he looks different now, that he's either disguised the way he looks or may have sustained some sort of injuries in Tora Bora that he doesn't want the world to know about. So, that is one thing you could read into it. That is what some analysts believe.

BLITZER: Last word to you, Mike Boettcher, as we begin to move on. The whole notion of Osama bin Laden, whether or not he was injured, how sick he is, you've been doing a lot of digging on this particular aspect of Osama bin Laden over these many months. What are you hearing?

BOETTCHER: We've been told consistently since the attack in Tora Bora by our sources in the anti-terror coalition, intelligence sources in that coalition, that he was hurt in the attack on Tora Bora, that he injured his shoulder, that he had an operation and that he did survive and is alive and where he is from there, the best guess, not pinpoint knowledge but best guess, is in that border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, that tribal area of the tribal frontier.

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