CAIRO, Egypt - The Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera aired excerpts Wednesday of what it said was an audiotape of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant calling on Muslims to imitate the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in strikes on the United States and its allies in the war on Iraq.
"Consider your 19 brothers who attacked America in Washington and New York with their planes as an example," a strong voice could be heard saying as the station showed a file photo of the lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahri, wearing a white turban. Children's voices could be heard in the background on the tape.
"Oh Muslims, take your decision against the embassies of America, England, Australia and Norway, their interests, their companies and their employees," the speaker said. "Turn the earth under their feet into fire."
Britain was the United States' main partner in the war on Iraq, and Australia contributed troops. Norway did not take part in the fighting, but America considers Norway a good friend and ally and the Norwegian prime minister said recently he will work on asking France to be more flexible with U.S. demands on postwar Iraq.
The voice was similar to al-Zawahri's, judging from previous audiotapes and videotapes attributed to the Egyptian militant. Al-Jazeera has in the past aired tapes of bin Laden, al-Zawahri and other figures in the al-Qaida terror organization.
In Washington, U.S. intelligence analysts were reviewing the tape. A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it is plausible that it is a real recording of al-Zawahri, but a thorough technical analysis is necessary before authorities can be certain.
Al-Jazeera chief editor Ibrahim Hilal told The Associated Press the station received the tape Tuesday night, but would not say how.
"The quality is not very good. It's an 11-minute tape and we've aired the most significant and the newsworthy parts," Hilal said.
Al-Jazeera aired 3 1/2 minutes of the tape and said that is all it would broadcast.
In the tape, the speaker lashed out at Arab leaders for offering "airports and the facilities" to allied troops, an apparent reference to the U.S.-led war on Iraq.
"Here is Saudi Arabia, where planes are launched from their airports, from its lands. Here is Kuwait, where the heavy armies march from its lands. Here is Qatar, where the command of the campaign is based there. Here is Bahrain, the command of the (U.S. Navy) Fifth Fleet remains inside it. Here is Egypt, the marine ships pass through its canal. Here is Yemen, the crusader ships are provided with fuel. Here is Jordan, where the crusader troops are present, and the batteries of the Patriot missiles are erected their to protect Israel."
The whereabouts of al-Zawahri and bin Laden have been unclear since the U.S.-led war on Afghanistan dislodged al-Qaida from that country.
American intelligence officials have cited a tape that appeared in November as an indication bin Laden survived heavy U.S. bombing of his Afghan hideout after the Sept. 11 attacks and probably is with al-Zawahri in the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Al-Jazeera in February broadcast a purported bin Laden audiotape in which a speaker called on Iraqis to carry out suicide attacks against Americans and defend themselves against a U.S. attack. The speaker called on Muslims to rise up against Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, "regimes who are slaves of America." U.S. counterterrorism officials in Washington said then that the audio message was probably a real recording of bin Laden.
The last public statement attributed to al-Zawahri was in February, in an online militant newsletter. That statement called on Muslims to respond to oppression with violence.
The last audiotape purportedly from al-Zawahri surfaced in October 2002. A U.S. official said then that the tape, in which al-Zawahri threatens new attacks on the United States, appeared to have been recorded weeks earlier and seemed to be genuine.