Ashcroft urges hunt for 5 men in videos

Al-Qaida suspects are said to deliver `martyrdom messages'

Tapes found in Afghanistan

January 18, 2002|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Attorney General John Ashcroft released video images and photographs yesterday of five suspected al-Qaida members delivering what he called "martyrdom messages from suicide terrorists."

Saying "these men could be anywhere in the world," Ashcroft said he was releasing the images in the hope that people around the globe would recognize the faces and help avert another terrorist attack.

The videos, excerpts of which were shown for less than five minutes without sound, were recovered by U.S. special forces from the rubble outside the Afghan home of Mohammed Atef, who is thought to have been Osama bin Laden's chief military lieutenant. Atef was killed by a U.S. airstrike in November.

Ashcroft said the videos reveal no information about specific new attacks. But he said an initial analysis of the tapes suggests that "the men may be trained and prepared to commit future suicide terrorist acts."

He called on people worldwide to "identify, locate and incapacitate terrorists who are suspected of planning additional attacks against innocent civilians."

The most chilling video image was that of one man, identified as Khalid Ibn Muhammad Al-Juhani, who puts his rifle to his mouth and face and appears to be cuddling with it.

Three of the other men were identified as Abd Al-Rahim, Muhammad Said Ali Hasan and Ramzi Binalshibh. Officials are trying to determine the identity of the fifth man.

It is not known, Ashcroft said, when the videotapes and photographs were made or whether any of the men might be in the United States. Nor is it clear where the men come from, with the exception of Binalshibh.

Atta associate

Binalshibh, a Yemeni, is a known associate of Mohammed Atta, the suspected lead hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Binalshibh is named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the indictment of Zacarias Moussaoui, who is awaiting trial on charges of complicity in the Sept. 11 terrorist plot.

According to Moussaoui's indictment, Binalshibh was a member of an al-Qaida cell in Hamburg, Germany. Authorities say he tried three times unsuccessfully to enter the United States before Sept. 11. Thereafter, the indictment says, he served from abroad as a financier and manager of the ring of terrorist hijackers.

The somewhat grainy video images show three of the men speaking directly to the camera. Al-Juhani spends most of his 1 1/2 minutes caressing and posing with his rifle. He eagerly shows off the strap attached to his rifle, bearing unidentified Arabic writing that has been carefully drawn with a marker.

For the first half-minute, Al-Juhani sits in front of a white-and-blue tapestry, surrounded by what looks like colorful pillows and blankets. The rest of the time, like the two others, he sits in front of a white wall. At one point, he buries his head in his hands.

The video of Abd Al-Rahim is also striking. He appears almost jovial, stressing his remarks with grand hand gestures and grins. Without sound, it looks as if he is recounting a funny story.

Hasan's video clip shows him staring downward and talking, as though reading from a script. He wears a black and white scarf.

A Justice Department official said that videotapes of the two other men were not shown because of technical problems with those videos.

Ashcroft said he could not say when or even whether the videos would be released in their entirety with sound. The sound was left out of the released versions to protect against the possibility that the messages contained signals for other terrorists or information pertinent to the investigation that terrorists could use to their advantage, officials said.

`Valuable information'

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said the videos came from "a trove of valuable information" recovered in Afghanistan. The material, Mueller said, reflects the "seamless effort against terrorism that extends from the troops on the ground to the FBI and the CIA analysts here who are charged with putting these pieces together."

Analysts have completed a preliminary translation of the videos, but further review is needed to determine exactly what the suspected terrorists are saying, Justice Department officials said.

Ashcroft and Mueller said that asking for the public's help in identifying the men gives people a chance to be a "constructive part" of the war on terrorism.

"Every piece of information is potentially valuable," Mueller said. "The principle is simple: An informed and enlightened public works."

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