Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Strong Evidence Emerges That 'Osama bin Laden' in New 9/11 Video Is an Impostor

Al-Qaida Leader Has Not Been Seen Since Northern Pakistan Region Where He's Suspected to Be Hiding Was Devastated By a Major Earthquake in 2005 That Killed 75,000 People -- Raising Doubts That the World's No. 1 Fugitive Is Still Alive

Contrast: Osama bin Laden in a 2004 video (l) and in the new video (r) (AFP)

You be the judge: On the left, Osama bin Laden in an image made from an undated video broadcast on October. 29, 2004 by the Arab TV news network al-Jazeera. On the right, a man purported to be bin Laden is shown in an image taken last Thursday from an Islamic militant Web site on which al-Qaida's media arm, Al-Sahab, frequently posts messages. (AP Photo)

(Updated 9:00 a.m. EDT Friday, September 14, 2007)

By Skeeter Sanders

Two new videotaped messages purported to be from Osama bin Laden that have appeared in the past week -- just in time for Tuesday's sixth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States -- have revived the game of questions over the fugitive al-Qaida leader's health and whereabouts.

But the authenticity of one of the videos -- showing bin Laden with his hair and beard trimmed and dyed black -- is being openly challenged, with a former U.S. Army linguist saying that there are noticeable discrepancies between the recording's audio track and its video image.

A British journalist and a Duke University professor are also calling the authenticity of the bin Laden video into question, with the journalist strongly suggesting that the image of bin Laden was electronically altered and the professor -- who believes that bin Laden is dead -- calling it "a voice from the grave."

September 11 'Martyr' Praised in 2nd Video Is Very Much Alive

The authenticity of a second video that purportedly praises the "martyrdom" of Waleed al-Shehri, who it said was one of the hijackers aboard American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, was quickly undermined Wednesday when the British Broadcasting Corporation disclosed that al-Shehri is still very much alive in Morocco -- and is vehemently protesting his innocence.

Indeed, within hours of the BBC's disclosure, al-Shehri told reporters at a hastily-called press conference in Casablanca that he had nothing to do with the attacks on New York and Washington and had been in Morocco when they happened. He has contacted both the Saudi and American authorities, according to Saudi press reports.

The Saudi Arabian-born al-Shehri was one of five men that the FBI said had deliberately crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower. The bureau released his photograph, which subsequently appeared in newspapers and on television around the world.

Al-Shehri acknowledged that he is indeed the same man whom the FBI named and that he attended a flight-training school at Daytona Beach, Florida. But, he told reporters, he returned to Saudi Arabia a year ago to become a pilot with the Saudi national airline and is currently on a further training course in Morocco.

Even al-Jazeera Has Doubts About the New Footage

Unlike previous bin Laden videos, this one was not first obtained by the Arab TV news network al-Jazeera. Instead, the new message was obtained by Associated Press Television News from the IntelCenter, a private monitoring group based in suburban Washington.

And for the first time, al-Jazeera refused to acknowledge directly that this new video came from al-Qaida -- either on the air or on its Web sites -- instead reporting that "A videotape purporting to show [emphasis added] Osama bin Laden has been released in which the al-Qaida leader warns [President] Bush that he is repeating the 'mistakes of the former Soviet Union.'"

The network reported on its English-language Web site that U. S. intelligence officials "were studying the tape, which, if proved to be genuine [emphasis added], would be the first message from bin Laden for nearly three years."

The release of the two videos was purposefully timed to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. But they made a bigger-than-expected splash in the mainstream media at a time when the 2008 campaign to elect a successor to President Bush is in full swing -- and against the backdrop of an increasingly bitter partisan debate in Washington over the war in Iraq, which opinion polls show is becoming as unpopular to the American public as the Vietnam conflict a generation ago.

Ex-Army Linguist: New bin Laden Video 'Is a Forgery'

In a blog entry posted Sunday on the Web site, George Maschke, a former U.S. Army linguist who specialized in Arabic and Farsi (the official language of Iran), wrote that the new bin Laden video "has a peculiarity that casts serious doubt" on its authenticity.

The video image "freezes" 90 seconds after the recording begins and does not move again until 11 minutes later, Maschke reported. "The video image then freezes again" at the 14-minute mark and remains frozen until the message ends.

Maschke said that the audio track's references to current events, including the 62nd anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Japan in August, the election of Nicholas Sarkozy as president of France in late July and the ascension of Gordon Brown as prime minister of Britain in May "occur when the video is frozen."

On the other hand, the words spoken "when the video [image] is in motion contain no references to contemporary events," Maschke continued, "and could have been -- and likely were -- made before the U.S. invasion of Iraq [in 2003]."

Maschke, who is also a polygraph expert, acknowledged that the voice on the audio track "does appear to be...the voice of a single speaker." He suspects that "an older, unreleased video was dubbed over for this release," but said he has "no doubt" that the new video "is a forgery."

British Journalist, Duke Professor Also Question Video's Veracity

In an interview with al-Jazeera, Adel Darwish, political editor of the London-based Middle East magazine, said that he, too, had "doubts" about the authenticity of the tape and believes that it was electronically altered.

"Any kid these days with an electronic kit can alter images and edit the way that he or she likes," he said.

Meanwhile, Bruce Lawrence, a Duke University professor of religious studies, flatly rejected the authenticity of the new bin Laden video. He believes that the fugitive al-Qaida leader is dead. "It [the video] was like a voice from the grave," he said in an interview with ABC News.

Lawrence, who noted that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins this week, was struck by the complete absence of references to the Qu'ran, the Muslim holy book, in the video.

"[Bin Laden is], by his own standards, a faithful Muslim," Lawrence said. "He routinely quotes quranic scripture in defense of his actions. There's no quotation from the Qu'ran in the excerpts we got. No reference to [previous al-Qaida attacks]. No reference to past atrocities."

Was bin Laden Killed in 2005 Pakistan Earthquake?

Lawrence may have good reason to believe that bin Laden is dead. There had been no new video footage of the al-Qaida leader since al-Jazeera last broadcast footage of him in October 2004. U.S. officials have long believed that bin Laden is hiding in the rugged mountains of northwestern Pakistan since he was driven out of Tora Bora in the December 2001 U.S. assault on Afghanistan.

But on October 8, 2005, the region was devastated by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake that killed nearly 75,000 people, injured another 100,000 and left up to two million people homeless, according to Pakistani government figures -- the world's worst quake-related disaster since the 2004 South Asian tsunami.

The quake, which was centered in the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir, was the most powerful temblor to strike Pakistan in 70 years; a 7.7-magnitude quake leveled the city of Quetta, capital of Pakistan's Balochistan province, in 1935, killing anywhere between 30,000 and 60,000 people.

Since the Kashmir earthquake, bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, has been the international public face of the al-Qaida network, issuing numerous videos and audiotapes, leading some analysts to believe that the Egyptian-born al-Zawahri had taken a more direct hand in the al-Qaida leadership -- perhaps even taken over as the terror network's top leader.

The longer bin Laden remained out of sight, the greater the speculation grew about whether he was alive or dead. The dramatic differences in bin Laden's appearance in the new video is casting serious doubt that he is still alive.

Taliban Commander Says bin Laden 'Alive and Well' -- But Furnishes No Proof

A top TalIban commander said in a television interview Wednesday that bin Laden and Afghanistan's former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar are alive and well. "I am in contact with Mullah Omar and take directions from him," Mullah Akhtar Usmani told Pakistan's privately-run Geo television.

But Mullah Usmani did not provide any proof that the fugitive al-Qaida leader is indeed alive -- and as long as bin Laden's whereabouts remain unknown, there is no way to independently verify his claim.

Mullah Usmani was a senior commander in the Taliban before its fall in 2001. He is since considered to be the operational head of the Taleban resistance.

The United States has offered bounties of $25 million and $10 million for the capture of the Saudi-born bin Laden and Mullah Omar, respectively, in connection with the September 11 attacks.

The '04 and '07 Videos: Difference in Face, Beard, Hair -- And Body Size

The differences in bin Laden's physical appearance in the three years between his last previous video and the one released last week are striking even to this blogger -- so striking as to call into question whether the man in the new video is really bin Laden.

The most striking difference is in the length and color of the al-Qaida leader's beard. Bin Laden's beard had grown longer and progressively grayer in the many videos of him released in the years since the September 11 attacks. But in the latest video, the beard is black -- and trimmed.

Experts in Muslim culture say that trimming one's beard is frowned upon -- and that dyeing it is strictly taboo.

Other noticeable differences in bin Laden's video appearance between 2004 and now can be found in the nose (it's thinner), lower lip (it's more curved) and left eyebrow (a higher arch). And the al-Qaida leader's overall body appears thinner in the older video.

If bin Laden -- who, if he is still alive, is 50 years old -- really was killed in the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, why would al-Qaida keep his death a secret -- other than, perhaps, to save face with its followers? After all, what would happen to al-Qaida's standing among Muslim extremists if they -- and the world -- knew that their spiritual leader was killed by an act of Allah?

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Volume II, Number 46
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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