Europe rejects terror `truce'

Arab networks broadcast purported bin Laden tape calling for troop pullout

`Stop spilling our blood'

Voice threatens attacks

U.S. sees effort to drive a wedge between allies

April 16, 2004|By Evan Osnos | Evan Osnos,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CAIRO, Egypt - An audiotape purportedly by Osama bin Laden and broadcast yesterday by Arab television channels offered a "truce" to European nations that remove their troops from Muslim nations. But the offer was instantly rejected by Britain and other European Union countries.

U.S. intelligence analysts concluded that the tape probably is an authentic recording of the al-Qaida leader, said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. The seven-minute tape refers to recent news events such as the train bombings in Madrid last month and the troubled U.S. occupation in Iraq, suggesting that it was made in the past few weeks.

U.S. officials described the tape, broadcast on Dubai-based Al-Arabiya and Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television, as an attempt to sow dissent between the United States and its allies.

"The truce will begin when the last soldier leaves our countries," the voice said in Arabic, adding that the offer is valid for three months but could be extended.

Directing the message to "our neighbors north of the Mediterranean," the voice said: "Whoever wants reconciliation ... stop spilling our blood so we can stop spilling your blood."

The speaker said the offer is based on "our commitment to cease operations against any country which does not carry out an onslaught against Muslims or interfere in their affairs."

The tape warned of renewed attacks against the United States because of Israel's assassination last month of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The recording is the first evidence of life from bin Laden since a major U.S.-Pakistani military offensive targeted al-Qaida along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border last month, and the first tape attributed to him since January.

It arrived as the United States is beset by a flurry of kidnappings of foreign contractors and workers in Iraq. Broadcast on a day when Italian newspapers were covered with the face of an Italian hostage killed by his captors this week, the tape also condemned companies such as Halliburton as "war traders and vampires."

The truce proposal seems timed to exploit European concerns over whether their involvement in Iraq fuels attacks on their soil. Just three days after the March 11 train bombings in Madrid, Spaniards voted out the government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who had defied public opposition to the war and became one of President Bush's closest allies in the Iraq coalition.

The new Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who takes office today, has pledged to remove the 1,300 Spanish soldiers from Iraq unless a United Nations operation takes control by June 30.

But in Spain, the incoming foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, dismissed the idea of bargaining with al-Qaida, saying in an address before his nation's parliament that "those of us who seek peace, democracy and freedom don't have to listen" to the tape.

Germany, Italy and France also rejected the proposal.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, whose country has 3,000 soldiers in Iraq, said, "It is completely unthinkable that we could start negotiations with bin Laden," according to the Reuters news service.

With 8,700 soldiers in southern Iraq, Britain is the largest ally in the U.S.-led coalition. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the al-Qaida truce proposal should be treated with "contempt," telling reporters: "It's yet another bare-faced attempt to divide the international community."

French President Jacques Chirac, who opposed the Iraq war, said, "No dealings are possible with terrorists."

Powell told Polish television: "This is a time for all of us to be ever more resolute and say to Osama bin Laden, `No, we will not listen to any of these demands. You are the one who is wrong. You are the one who must be brought to justice.'"

In the most recent tape, bin Laden seemingly directs his message past political leaders to ordinary citizens.

"Security is a need for all humans, and we could not let you have a monopoly on it for yourselves," he said. "People who are aware would not let their politicians jeopardize their security."

On several occasions, the release of bin Laden recordings has preceded attacks, as in November 2002, when a tape was followed two weeks later by attacks in Mombasa, Kenya, against a resort hotel and an Israeli jetliner.

In early 2003, bin Laden tapes named a handful of countries allied with the United States, including Morocco and Saudi Arabia. In May, both countries were hit by deadly suicide attacks.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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