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London Times Journalist: Atta Tape Is "Not From Al Qaeda"

JIM SCIUTTO / ABC | October 5 2006

U.S. intelligence officials are reviewing a new videotape that shows two of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers, and Osama bin Laden.

Ringleader Mohamed Atta is seen laughing with Ziad Jarrah, who piloted United Airlines Flight 93.

It also shows bin Laden speaking to a large group.

The Times of London, which first obtained the tape, says it was shot in Afghanistan in January 2000, 18 months before the terrorist attacks.

ABC Senior Foreign Correspondent Jim Sciutto spoke with the man who received the tape, Yousri Fouda.

He is the Al-Jazeera London bureau chief and a Sunday Times of London contributor.

Sciutto: What do we know about the al Qaeda public relations machine -- it seems to be getting more sophisticated, more active?

Fouda: Al Qaeda is the type of organization that loves, that thrives on the media, they tape almost everything they do, and then they will have their own strategy on when and where and through which manner they will release that tape, certainly that was my impression when I interviewed Al Mohammed in Karachi [in Pakistan] back in 2002. When I asked for certain tapes and certain videos by some of the 9/11 hijackers and they told me no, they have a certain strategy and they not going to release this now … and that they can release in a couple weeks plus the statements, plus the Internet and they have -- they're never short of a way to deliver a statement, or a tape or a CD and basically they are computer freaks.

(Fouda went on to explain how tech-savvy al Qaeda and its sympathizers have become. It is a skill that Fouda saw firsthand when he interviewed in person al Qaeda plotter Ramzi Binalshibh.)

When I arrived in that safe house in Karachi, Ramzi Binalshibh was sitting on the floor surrounded by at least four or five laptops and the same number of mobile phones and countless sim cards and he was using the texting. Binalshibh knows his way around the Internet. … They are professionals. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed himself, who is the main mastermind behind 9/11 as the head of the military committee behind al Qaeda, that was before. … He used to do the media work, so it falls very much into the heart of the al Qaeda -- it's very much part and parcel of the jihad as far as they are concerned.

Sciutto: You've had so many dealings with them about the al Qaeda machine, are they getting better at it?

Fouda: I think so, especially now since we're talking about the Internet -- because that you can do very little to avoid, to shut down.

Sciutto: How do they [Al-Jazeera] get hold of the tapes?

Fouda: I mean, it varies, sometimes a tape would be literally thrown at the door of our office in Kabul [in Afghanistan] or sent in the post, or through an intermediary -- now they can download it and by the way this is how I managed to get hold of one of the interviews with Ramzi Binalshibh -- he sent it via the Internet to somebody in London, who then put it in the mail to my office.

Sciutto: I was reading … some analysis because they are sympathetic tech-savvy people out there who will post the messages, blog them, download, and get them out that way as opposed to having a set. In a way it mirrors the operational side; it's not necessarily centrally controlled.

Fouda: Muhammad the Prophet said, "He who equips a conqueror, is a conqueror in his own right," and al Qaeda thrives on people round the world who sympathize with them to provide for crucial logistics, for example, somebody who would like to come back, it happened before, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- coming to Europe, somebody just to facilitate for him, to allow him to spend the night in his own house, thus you will never be able to check where he was and his movements … and that host will do it quite happily and think of it as something he was doing for Allah. It's a small thing -- the movement of tapes, the delivery of tapes from here to there, and I'm sure that this guy in London, and it's quite obvious that the tape, a CD, rather, was … from a specific area in London, but I'm quite sure that the tape arrived to him from [the] Internet.

Sciutto: Would al Qaeda release this type of unedited tape of the hijackers?

Fouda: I think it's quite clear, in my opinion, that this is not exactly the style that we are used to seeing from al Qaeda. Al Qaeda to start with would never release anything unedited. … When I interviewed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [and] Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the conditions I would leave without [my video] tapes for them to doctor and then find a way for the tapes to reach me. So that's a sacred rule so to see Mohamed Atta and Ziad Jarrah socializing together and laughing and smiling, going over their scripts and the rest of it before delivering their scripts to camera, that's very strange, we've never seen this before from al Qaeda. Which gives me the impression that this is a different source, not al Qaeda.

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