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SLUG: 3-537 Leavitt bin Laden









HOST: An audiotape broadcast Tuesday on Al-Jazeera Arab television calls on Muslims to support Iraq in the event of a war and for suicide attacks against the United States. Matthew Leavitt, senior fellow on terrorism studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, talked about the tape, that is said to be the voice of Osama bin Laden, with V-O-A's Sarah Williams.

MR. LEAVITT: It Is more telling, I think, that it was again an audiotape and not a videotape, lending further credence to the possibility that bin Laden is not in as good health as he might have been before Tora Bora.

MS. WILLIAMS: The United States has been saying that the tape shows a link between Baghdad and al-Qaida. Do you agree with that?

MR. LEAVITT: What it shows is a like-mindedness. What it shows is that they are contributors to the same overall problem. It is not an indication that they are planning operations together or that they are proactively engaged in a single mission. It does contribute to the administration's argument that al-Qaida and Iraq are contributing to the same problem of international security, that they both are intent on targeting the West, and particularly the United States.

Iraqi officials themselves have talked about deploying suicide bombers against the United States and the West not only in Iraq but internationally in the event of a war. Bin Laden was echoing and calling for the same. Of course, those are not the only parties. Other terrorist groups have done the same, including Sheik Ahmed Yassin, from Hamas, who issued an open letter on Friday, calling on all good Muslims to attack the United States and the West in the event of a war with Iraq.

In fact, that led Director (George) Tenet, the Director of the CIA, to comment yesterday before Congress that the days in which we distinguished between terrorist groups, meaning between groups like al-Qaida on the one hand and Palestinian groups like Hamas on the other, are long gone.

MS. WILLIAMS: Yes, he did seem to make quite a point of calling for a solidarity between all Muslims. Is this, in a way, a threat to those Muslim countries that have not been particularly sympathetic to either him or to Iraq?

MR. LEAVITT: Well, it was very interesting what he did say. He called on Muslims to defend Iraq. And he explicitly said that this was not because he had any affinity for the secular Baathist, or socialist, regime in Iraq or other regimes. And he highlighted Jordan and other countries as countries that were on the verge of or amenable to change. The point is that those people who think that secular regimes and religious terrorist groups or Sunni groups and Shia groups do not cooperate in their terrorist activities against the United States and against the West are wrong.

They are tactical alliances, yes, but they are alliances nonetheless. And therefore, it is not at all inconceivable -- and I think Secretary Powell made a very powerful case, demonstrating that in fact it is the case -- that secular groups like the Iraqi regime and radical fundamentalist groups like al-Qaida, Sunni groups like al-Qaida, and Shia groups like Hezbollah in fact do cooperate together on a tactical basis to attack the United States and the West.

MS. WILLIAMS: The voice on the tape, ostensibly Osama bin Laden, also calls on Iraqis to dig trenches and engage in urban warfare. He says that is particularly effective against American troops. Is this something that he learned during the fighting in Afghanistan?

MR. LEAVITT: This is something he wants people to believe he learned during the fighting in Afghanistan. He went to great lengths in this tape to build up the power and the strength and the determination of the Islamic forces that were fighting in Tora Bora. And specifically, he went to specific lengths to delineate his version of some of that fighting, where he says the believers overcame the powerful. And this is his way of giving sustenance and support to terrorists and others who may feel threatened by the overwhelming firepower that everybody knows will be present in Iraq in the event that there is a war with Iraq.

There is also no question that he is aware that, if and when there is a war in Iraq, the ugliest part of the fighting will be in an urban setting. And what he is saying is take as many casualties as you can.

HOST: Matthew Leavitt, senior fellow on terrorism studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.


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