CAIRO, Egypt - Osama bin Laden, reading a statement to the American people in a new videotape aired Friday, directly admitted for the first time that he ordered the Sept. 11 attacks and said "the best way to avoid another Manhattan" was to stop threatening Muslims' security.
It was the first footage of the al-Qaida leader to surface in more than a year. The video, broadcast on Al-Jazeera, showed bin Laden with a long gray beard, wearing traditional white robes, a turban and a golden cloak reading from papers in front of a plain, brown curtain.
There was no immediate way to authenticate the tape or say when it was made, although it did refer to next week's presidential elections in the United States.
"We decided to destroy towers in America," bin Laden said, referring to the World Trade Center.
"God knows that it had not occurred to our mind to attack the towers, but after our patience ran out and we saw the injustice and inflexibility of the American-Israeli alliance toward our people in Palestine and Lebanon, this came to my mind," he said.
He accused President Bush of "misleading" the American people since the 2001 suicide airline hijackings that hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"Your security is not in the hands of (Democratic candidate John) Kerry or Bush or al-Qaida. Your security is in your own hands," bin Laden said.
"To the U.S. people, my talk is to you about the best way to avoid another disaster," he said. "I tell you: security is an important element of human life and free people do not give up their security."
"If Bush says we hate freedom, let him tell us why we didn't attack Sweden, for example. It is known that those who hate freedom do not have dignified souls, like those of the 19 blessed ones," he said, referring to the 19 hijackers.
"We fought you because we are free .. and want to regain freedom for our nation. As you undermine our security we undermine yours."
The image of bin Laden reading a statement was dramatically different from the few other videos of the al-Qaida leader that have emerged since the Sept. 11 attacks.
In the last videotape, issued Sept. 10, 2003, bin Laden is seen walking through rocky terrain with his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, both carrying automatic rifles. In a taped message issued at the same time, bin Laden praises the "great damage to the enemy" on Sept. 11 and mentions five hijackers by name.
In December 2001, the Pentagon released a videotape in which bin Laden is shown at a dinner with associates in Afghanistan on Nov. 9, 2001, saying the destruction of the Sept. 11 attacks exceeded even his "optimistic" calculations.
But in none of his previous messages, audio or video, did bin Laden directly state that he ordered the attacks.
The last audiotape purportedly from bin Laden came in April. The speaker on the tape, which CIA analysts said likely was the al-Qaida leader, offered a truce to European nations if they pull troops out of Muslim countries. The tape referred to the March 22 assassination by Israel of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin.
Al-Zawahri, bin Laden's Egyptian deputy, has spoken on three recent audiotapes that emerged on June 11, Sept. 9 and Oct. 1 this year. In the latest, he called on young Muslims to strike the United States and its allies.