Dec 27, 2004

Bin Laden Audiotape Dec 27 04

WALLACE: The authenticity of the tape aired by the Arabic language network Al-Jazeera could not be immediately verified. But for more, let's bring in CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen.

Peter, always great to see you. Anything from your initial listening to the tape to give you a sense if it's authentic or not?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It sounds like him. I mean, Al-Jazeera is batting 100 percent on these tapes. I mean, it's very unlikely that they would put on a tape of bin Laden that wasn't bin Laden. It would be like us airing a tape of George Bush that wasn't George Bush.

They know his voice. He has certain -- he speaks in a very familiar kind of high classical Arabic. I very much doubt that it isn't him.

WALLACE: What about the significance of him mentioning al-Zarqawi and calling him "the prince of al Qaeda in Iraq?"

BERGEN: Well, it's worrisome. As you may remember, Kelly, a few weeks back al-Zarqawi himself said he was declaring allegiance to bin Laden. He changed the name of his group to al Qaeda in Iraq to reflect that it was really now part of al Qaeda. If indeed Zarqawi could plug into the al Qaeda worldwide network of money, people, that is worrisome.

WALLACE: And also, we were talking before this interview. You were talking about the frequency of these tapes.

And we can let our viewers know, of course, there was a tape that was released on the Internet earlier this month. There was also a tape that came out right before the U.S. presidential election in early November. What's the significance of many tapes in a short amount of time?

BERGEN: Well, you know, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two in the group, are releasing tapes on average every six weeks. In fact, they seem to be releasing more -- more tapes rather than less. And I think the significance is that they feel somewhat secure.

Obviously, if you release these tapes there's some possibility you might trace the chain of custody back. By my count, there are now 30 tapes from bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri since 9/11. It's kind of an intelligence failure that the chain of custody of these tapes has not been traced back.

As you indicated, one of the most recent tapes from bin Laden went straight to the Internet, which may be an indication that they're concerned about the chain of custody being traced. It's harder to trace it back on the Internet.

WALLACE: Also, the significance of -- if, again, this is bin Laden and it's authentic -- of him calling for a boycott of the Iraqi elections. Basically saying that if anyone participates in these elections they will become "infidels." Is this the first time -- if, again, this is bin Laden -- he has mentioned the Iraqi elections, do you know?

BERGEN: Yes, I think it is the first time. I mean, he has talked about Iraq on a number of different occasions. Obviously it's a very important field of jihad for the -- for al Qaeda. But I don't recall him mentioning the elections before.

WALLACE: And the significance then?

BERGEN: Well, I mean, presumably some -- you know, bin Laden is very popular in much of the Arab world. He's scoring 65 percent in places like Pakistan, 55 percent in Jordan, 45 percent in Morocco in tames of favorability. So you've got to presume that his numbers are reasonably high in Iraq and people may well choose to boycott the elections. At least the Sunni more fundamentalist types.

WALLACE: But there is nothing, at least, again, initial, looking at this tape in terms of the timing of when -- if, again, this is bin Laden -- when this tape might have been made.?

BERGEN: Well, I think it's been made since Zarqawi has sort of given his allegiance, which is -- we're talking about something in the last several weeks.

WALLACE: OK. We have to leave it there. CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. Great to see you.

BERGEN: Thank you, Kelly.