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Al-Jazeera airs purported al Qaeda message

Speaker urges Muslims to 'light a fire' under feet of America

Ayman al-Zawahiri is seen with Osama bin Laden in a file photograph.
Ayman al-Zawahiri is seen with Osama bin Laden in a file photograph.

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start quoteIt's a series of threats; it's a series of diatribes; it's a series of calls for people to commit horrible acts against innocent people.end quote
-- Richard Boucher, State Department spokesman
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DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- A tape recording attributed to Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urged Muslims to take a lesson from the September 11 hijackers and "light a fire under the feet" of the United States, Britain, Australia and Norway by attacking embassies as well as corporations.

"Crusaders and Jews don't understand anything but the language of killing and blood," said the audiotape, released Wednesday by Arab-language television network Al-Jazeera.

"Learn from your brothers, the 19 that killed themselves in New York and Washington," the tape said. "They achieved something that is unprecedented in history."

But, the speaker said, "good news" is on the way for Muslims. The speaker did not elaborate.

Al-Jazeera said the tape was 15 minutes long and it excerpted more than four minutes of the "newsworthy" portions for broadcast. The network gave no details on how it acquired the tape, where it came from or when it was recorded.

The full tape was not made available.

There was no independent verification that the voice on the tape is that of al-Zawahiri, though White House officials said they expect U.S. intelligence experts to determine its authenticity within the next couple of days.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called Al-Jazeera's decision to air the tape "unfortunate."

"All it does is heighten tensions around the region, allowing terrorists to have this kind of access to the airwaves," Powell said after a meeting with the Crown Prince of Bahrain.

Powell said he spoke to the Qatari foreign minister Wednesday about the matter. Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar.

"I think they are taking some action, but it's too late, the information is already out there on that tape," he said. "Do we know if it is an accurate tape or if it's it inaccurate?" he asked. "Who knows? But in any event ... it spreads more hatred throughout the world, and I wish they'd made a different editorial judgment about it."

The State Department said Wednesday it had "expressed ... outrage over this broadcast to the government of Qatar at the highest levels, through (the) Mission in Doha.

"We expect the Qataris will take immediate steps to prevent any repeat of this activity," the State Department said.

Department spokesman Richard Boucher called Al-Jazeera "irresponsible" for airing the "inflammatory" tape.

"It's a series of threats; it's a series of diatribes; it's a series of calls for people to commit horrible acts against innocent people," he charged.

"I'd note in the text, once again, these people threaten just about everybody," Boucher said.

"They threaten Arab governments ... I probably can't even remember the whole list," he said. "They threaten Western governments who have helped the people of Iraq achieve a degree of freedom that they never had before, uncover the mass graves (of) the slaughters of a dictator, and start to build their own country back."

The tape was released shortly after the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency had raised the military terror threat level from "significant" to "high," its top level, as authorities braced for a possible terrorist attack. The nation's civilian "high" alert -- the second highest level of warning -- was put in place Tuesday. Previously it was "elevated."

In Saudi Arabia, three men identified as al Qaeda members were arrested at an airport in Jeddah on suspicion of planning to hijack a Saudi plane, Saudi security sources told CNN. (Full story)

A White House official said "there is a high level of concern" about the kinds of threats made on the tape to U.S. interests and allies.

The tape's speaker criticized Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan for giving U.S.-led coalition forces "services and bases" during the war in Iraq, warning that "the turn will come for Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and Pakistan" to be invaded by the U.S. and its allies, leaving nothing but Israel.

In addition to the United States and Britain, Australia sent troops to fight in Iraq.

It is unclear why Norway was targeted in the tape, but Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, who visited Washington last week, said Wednesday he takes the threat seriously and has informed all embassies, companies and Norwegians abroad.

He said he could not speculate as to why Norway was on the list, but news media in the country speculated that al-Zawahri may have confused Norway with neighboring Denmark.

While Norway didn't support the war in Iraq, it did sent special forces and fighter planes to Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

The U.S. State Department Wednesday said the U.S. embassy in Oslo, Norway will be closed to the public Thursday "for security reasons."

In an October 2002 interview, which coincided with the anniversary of the coalition attack on the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, al-Zawahiri said, "God willing, we will continue targeting the keys of the American economy." Four days after that tape was released, terrorists bombed two Bali nightclubs, killing more than 180 people, mostly young tourists from Australia. Citizens from at least 12 other countries -- including Indonesia, Britain, France, Germany, Sweden and the United States -- were also killed in the blasts.

U.S. officials believe al-Zawahiri was involved in deadly embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Al-Zawahiri is under indictment in the United States for the conspiracy behind the those attacks. He is also one of the FBI's "Most Wanted" terrorists.

"Ayman al-Zawahiri is effectively Osama bin Laden's number two," according to CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. "He is his closest adviser. They have known each other since 1987."

Even before he met bin Laden in Pakistan in 1987, al-Zawahiri led what the United States and Egypt said was a terrorist group.

Al-Zawahiri, a surgeon, was a medical student from an affluent family in Cairo, Egypt, when he was first arrested and charged with being part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot to overthrow then-President Nasser.

When Anwar Sadat was elected as Egypt's president, al-Zawahiri worked to overthrow Sadat and establish an Islamic state, says Dia'a Rashwan, a specialist in Islamic movements.

After Sadat made peace with Israel, members of al-Zawahiri's group -- Islamic Jihad -- assassinated Sadat. In the wake of that assassination, al-Zawahiri was put on trial in 1981 as defendant No. 113, accused of being part of the broader conspiracy against the Egyptian state.

Al-Zawahiri was convicted for his role in the conspiracy and served three years in prison. He surfaced in 1987 in Peshawar, Pakistan, aiding wounded in the fight against Afghanistan's Soviet-backed regime.

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