A Taped Voice, Said to Be bin Laden's, Criticizes Saudis
Published: December 17, 2004
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/17/international/middleeast/17qaeda.html?oref=login&th  (must register to view original article)

CAIRO, Dec. 16 - In an audiotape posted Thursday on an Islamist Web site, Osama bin Laden appeared to turn his attention to his Saudi homeland, accusing the ruling al-Saud dynasty of being the "agents of infidels" and applauding an attack last week against the United States Consulate in Jidda.

The recording, which seems to feature Mr. bin Laden's voice but has not been verified by intelligence experts, materialized on the same day that a London-based Saudi opposition figure had called for tens of thousands of Saudis to pour onto the streets of the country's two main cities to demonstrate their opposition to the absolute monarchy.

Although it was improbable that any demonstration would have attracted such numbers, a fierce dragnet by security services in downtown Riyadh, the capital, and in Jidda, the commercial hub, prevented even small clusters of protesters from gathering.

Experts in the workings of Al Qaeda's terrorist network believe that Mr. bin Laden, with his own movement inside Saudi Arabia largely broken into small disjointed cells after 18 months of widespread arrests, may have been trying to draw attention to his own long-stated desire to overthrow the Saudi government on what was supposed to be a day of demonstrations. None of his previous 17 or so recordings focused so pointedly on the kingdom.

"He noticed that there was all this heat internally in Saudi Arabia," said Montasser Zayat, a Cairo lawyer once jailed with Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mr. bin Laden's lieutenant. "So he is trying to make his presence felt on the Saudi scene after being absent for a long time."

Although the Bush administration has failed for more than three years to find Mr. bin Laden, believed to be somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, he has apparently little trouble keeping abreast of events and getting his repeated musings distributed.

Mr. bin Laden, Al Qaeda's founder, was last seen in a videotape released just before the American presidential election, threatening new attacks in the United States. This latest audiotape's reference to the Jidda attacks prove it is of recent vintage.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the tape appeared to be from Mr. bin Laden but said American intelligence experts would have to confirm its authenticity.

"He's a terrorist," Mr. Powell said in brief remarks, calling the tape incitement to violence. "That is what terrorists do."

On the recording, Mr. bin Laden praised the five gunmen who stormed the heavily guarded American Consulate on Dec. 6, shooting dead five local maintenance and other service employees before four of the attackers were gunned down and the fifth seriously wounded. Although hundreds of Al Qaeda sympathizers have been jailed in Saudi Arabia, the attack underscored that small cells still have the ability to mount lethal attacks.

"We ask God to have mercy on the mujahedeen who attacked the American Consulate," Mr. bin Laden said, scoffing at the idea that Americans should be afforded any protection in the kingdom. "How do they want to be blessed with security when they spread destruction and death on our people in Palestine and Iraq?"

In the message, addressed specifically to "Muslims in the land of the two holy mosques," Mr. bin Laden said the faults of the Saud dynasty went far beyond moral lapses.

"We are not talking about a leader who suffers a little moral depravity and debauchery, we are talking about apostasy and serving as agents for infidels," he said, referring to the longstanding alliance between the Saudi royal family and Washington.

Mr. bin Laden's long-term goal in organizing his violent movement has been to overthrow the Sauds and replace them with some manner of Islamic caliphate.

The aim of the would-be street demonstrations on Thursday, called for by Saad al-Faqih of the London-based Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, was also the overthrow of the Saudi ruling family.

All street demonstrations are illegal in the kingdom, but the last such attempt in October 2003 drew scores of people, with several hundred arrested and some 30 imprisoned for nearly two months.

There were conflicting reports by organizers and the government on Thursday on what happened, but it was clear that the heavy presence of security forces in both Riyadh and Jidda thwarted any gathering.

Organizers and witnesses interviewed by telephone said checkpoints had been set up on major routes to the two announced locations to screen all cars headed into the center of the two cities and anyone who got out of a car at either site was immediately led away by the police, usually in handcuffs. Most were apparently released after several hours, they said, but it was unclear how many people were detained.

Witnesses heard gunfire at the Jidda location. A government spokesman attributed it to a few demonstrators firing into the air. A man identified as a witness by Al Jazeera, the satellite network, said troops were firing in the direction of the protesters, who had first gathered for noon prayers.

Although Saudis broadly criticize their government as repressive and incompetent, neither Mr. bin Laden nor the London-based movement seem to have attracted much support for their domestic goals.

"I think it is all nonsense," said Muhammad A. al-Zulfa, a historian appointed to the Consultative Council, a government advisory arm. "They expect Saudis will all leave their houses and go into the streets to bring down the government? It is just in their imagination."

Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting for this article.