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Daily News (New York) October 01, 2004

New Tape Hints Al Qaeda Bigs' Days Numbered

By Maki Becker

A NEW audiotape purported to have been made by Al Qaeda's second-in-command seems to suggest the leaders of the terror network may be on the verge of being captured or killed.

"Oh, young men of Islam, here is our message to you," said the speaker, who claims to be Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden's top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

"If we are killed or captured, you should carry on the fight."

The tape marks the third time al-Zawahiri has made a public announcement since an audiotape by Bin Laden surfaced on April 15.

Rita Katz, a terror expert with the SITE Institute, said the voice on the tape sounded "different" from others - and the message was unique, too.

"The speaker on the tape mentions his potential death, something Zawahiri and Bin Laden rarely do," Katz said.

She pointed out that unlike previous messages about plans for a spectacular attack in the works, this message calls for instant action.

The speaker also suddenly begins talking fast in the second half of the two-minute recording. "It's like he was rushing," Katz suggested.

Anti-terror experts said it is difficult to decipher the meaning of the tapes, as well as Bin Laden's absence.

"The problem is that you're always going to try to understand them [audio and video messages] and try to draw significance," said John Pike, director of the Globalsecurity.org. "But you do so with the knowledge that the evildoers are deceivers."

Pike pointed out that Al Qaeda manuals seized in anti-terror operations teach tape makers how to throw off analysts.

"If you're in a country location, you should play background noise of city traffic," Pike said one of the instructions advises.

Copyright 2004, Daily News, L.P.