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Terrorism experts at odds over latest al-Qaida video

Google Video | October 3 2006

The soundless video of two September 11 hijackers and Osama bin Laden was a lot different from previous al-Qaida tapes, security and terrorism experts said yesterday.

It was highly unlikely that al-Qaida wanted it released as it was because it looked as though it was unedited footage, they said.

The Sunday Times newspaper in London posted the video on its website, saying it was taken in Afghanistan in January 2000 and was meant to be released after the terrorists’ deaths.

Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Ziad Jarrah look different from photographs released by authorities after the attacks in New York and Washington.

Both seem younger, are bearded and the infamously bleak gaze of Atta, the ringleader, is replaced by a somewhat softer expression. They laugh and smile for the camera.

The video also shows a man who looks like bin Laden speaking to about 75 men, many in turbans and caps — date stamped January 8, 2000. The paper said it appeared to be Tarnak Farm, once the base for bin Laden’s family in the desert near Kandahar airport.

The paper said the hour-long video did not appear on websites al-Qaida usually used but its source had been verified. Lip readers had not been able to decipher what the men were saying.

Independent defence and security consultant Paul Beaver said al-Qaida was “normally, very professional in their media”. Although the video had no sound, it could contain valuable information, Mr Beaver said. “It helps build up a profile, so you can ID people in the future,” he said.

Ben Venzke, head of the IntelCentre in Virginia which monitors terrorism communications, said the video probably was raw footage that al-Qaida had intended to edit, like one released last month of the last testament of hijackers Wail al-Shehri and Hamza al-Ghamdi.

Bin Laden said a few years ago that he was saving Atta’s last testament for a special occasion, Mr Venzke said. “It is highly unlikely that al-Qaida wanted the material to be released in this manner and it is not consistent with any previous release,” he said.

Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on militant groups, said he found it strange that the cameraman focused on bin Laden’s audience. Al-Qaida videos of bin Laden normally focused just on him. “Was this a video by al-Qaida or by a security agency?” Mr Rashwan said. “I have never seen such a video.”

Robert Ayers, an international security consultant, said it was more a curiosity than valuable resource.

A US intelligence official said: “We’re aware of the tape and we’re reviewing it.”


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