Bin Laden tape says Moussaoui not part of 9/11

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CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – Osama bin Laden purportedly said in an audio tape Tuesday that Zacarias Moussaoui – the only person convicted in the U.S. for the Sept. 11 attacks – had nothing to do with the operation.

“He had no connection at all with Sept. 11,” the speaker, claiming to be bin Laden, said in the tape posted on the Internet.

“I am the one in charge of the 19 brothers and I never assigned brother Zacarias to be with them in that mission,” he said, referring to the 19 hijackers.

The al-Qaida chief said the Sept. 11 hijackers were divided into two groups, “pilots and assistants.”

“Since Zacarias Moussaoui was still learning how to fly, he wasn’t No. 20 in the group, as your government has claimed,” bin Laden said. “It knows this very well,” he added.

Bin Laden said Moussaoui was not a security risk for al-Qaida, because he did not have knowledge of the plot.

“Brother Moussaoui was arrested two weeks before the events, and if he had known something – even very little – about the Sept. 11 group, we would have informed the leader of the operation, Mohammad Atta, and the others … to leave America before being discovered,” Bin Laden said.

Bin Laden said Moussaoui’s confession – that he helped plan the attacks – was “void,” calling it the result of “pressures exercised against him during four and a half years” in U.S. prison.

It was not clear which confession bin Laden was referring to by Moussaoui, who frequently trumpeted his claim that he was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. But his defense lawyers cast doubt on his claims, saying he only wanted to be sentenced to death to become a martyr.

Moussaoui, a 37-year-old Frenchman and admitted al-Qaida member, was sentenced to life in prison earlier this month after a jury ruled that he was responsible for at least one death on Sept. 11.

Two counterterrorism officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said U.S. intelligence is aware of the bin Laden message. One of the officials said there is no reason to doubt its authenticity.

That official said the message is part of bin Laden’s continuing effort to demonstrate he is a relevant extremist leader, who is knowledgeable of current events. The official said the message was made for propaganda purposes, and it does not contain any threats.

The audio message, which is less than five minutes long, was transmitted with a still photo of bin Laden.

If authentic, it would be the third by bin Laden this year. In a tape aired on Arab television in April, he denounced the United States and Europe for cutting off funds to the Hamas-led Palestinian government, accusing them of leading a “Zionist” war on Islam, and urged followers to fight any U.N. peacekeeping force in Sudan.

In January, bin Laden said in an audiotape that al-Qaida was preparing new attacks in the United States but offered a truce – though his lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahri later issued a video saying Washington had refused to take the offer.

The January message was bin Laden’s first in over a year, his longest period of silence since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

His deputy al-Zawahri releases messages more frequently, appearing in videotapes, while bin Laden has not appeared in a video since October 2004.

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