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U.S.: Tape 'most likely' al Qaeda's number 2 man


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The voice on an audiotape aired Friday on the Arabic-language television network Al Jazeera "is most likely" that of Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second in command, a senior U.S. official said Saturday, citing a CIA analysis of the tape.

In the tape, the speaker declared that U.S. forces are on the run in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and seemed to take responsibility for an attack in October on a hotel in Baghdad where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying.

"The American bleeding in Iraq is worsening. It is proof that Americans are incapable of defending themselves. They couldn't even defend their biggest criminal, Wolfowitz, that pompous Zionist," the voice said.

The speaker may have been referring to an attack on the Al Rashid Hotel in Baghdad October 26, when Wolfowitz was staying there. He was not hurt when several rockets were fired at the building, but one U.S. soldier was killed and more than a dozen other people were wounded in the attack.

It's not known when the tape was recorded.

No mention was made of the capture last week of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, nor of al Qaeda's top leader, Osama bin Laden, who remains at large.

The tape did, however, talk about insurgents in Baghdad, saying that they are not the remnants of Saddam's forces but Mujahedeen fighters battling for Islam and genuine Iraqi resistance.

"The American soldier is a coward and does not believe in his own ideology," the voice said.

The speaker said that two years after the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, the terrorist organization is chasing America and its allies everywhere, including in their home countries.

"Two years after Tora Bora, the American disintegration has become an unmistakable reality in Afghanistan. The forces of Jihad and Islam started chasing the crusaders and the liars out of sacred Afghanistan one region at a time," the voice said.

The voice promised that the power of Islam would continue until it also chased Americans out of the Arabian Peninsula, and vowed that America will pick the thorns it has planted.

The speaker claimed as well that 300 Mujahedeen fighters resisted American bombing in Afghanistan for 12 days during the war there and made it out alive, walking through the "white mountains" and crossing into Pakistan.

The last purported audiotape from al Qaeda was released on the same television network October 18, and included a speaker claiming to be bin Laden who threatened to launch suicide attacks against the United States and any other countries who help the U.S. effort in Iraq.

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