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Daily News (New York) October 30, 2004

Jealousy May Have Prompted Message

By James Gordon Meek

WASHINGTON - Intelligence experts believe Osama Bin Laden was forced to go public after three years in hiding to reassert himself as overlord of the global Islamic jihad.

Intelligence officials and terrorism experts noted that Bin Laden for the first time shed his trademark camouflage coat and AK-74 rifle for flowing golden robes that made him appear more like a religious figure.

"It shows he's not hiding in sackcloth and ashes in some cave," said ex-CIA counterterrorism official Vince Cannistraro.

And unlike previous taped statements, Bin Laden did not make an explicit threat against the United States, intelligence officials said.

While some view the video as a possible harbinger of doom - such as a long-threatened spectacular attack by Al Qaeda - others surmised Bin Laden wants to reestablish his prominence after watching upstart Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi grab the attention in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi's head now carries the same $25 million U.S. bounty.

"Zarqawi's been sucking up a lot of airtime," said John Pike, a terror expert at GlobalSecurity.org.

SITE Institute Director Rita Katz said it's odd that Bin Laden didn't praise al-Zarqawi, who pledged a loyalty oath to him this month.

Added another top counterterrorism official said, "My best guess is he's trying to regain the limelight."

The rivalry theory isn't unanimous among the spooks, with one painting al-Zarqawi as a "longtime admirer" of Bin Laden.

Asked whether military intelligence officials were surprised that Bin Laden wasn't killed in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, since he hadn't been seen on fresh videotape since the 2001 battle, a Defense Department official said, "Let me ask the guy here who just lost the bet."

Copyright 2004, Daily News, L.P.