A man identified as Osama bin Laden, speaking on an audiotape posted on an Islamic Web site Thursday, praised an attack earlier this month on a U.S. consulate in Saudi Arabia and criticized the Saudi regime as weak and controlled by the United States.
The voice sounded like the al-Qaida terror chief's, and the tape, which was more than an hour, was posted on a site known as a clearinghouse for militant Islamic comment. The identity of the voice, however, could not be independently confirmed.
The tape appeared the same day another dissident had called for anti-monarchy protests in the kingdom.
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said U.S. intelligence officials were analyzing the purported bin Laden tape, but "it appears to be" the voice of the al-Qaida leader.
When asked whether he thought bin Laden was trying to taunt the United States and Saudi Arabia, Powell replied, "He's a terrorist. That's what terrorists do. He's a criminal, he's a terrorist, he's a murderer and we're going to continue to hunt for him. ... He will be brought to justice."
The tape's reference to the Dec. 6 attack — in which five militants shot their way into the compound of the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, killing five non-American employees — showed that it was made recently. Four of the attackers were killed and one was wounded in the consulate attack.
"God bless our brothers who stormed the American Consulate in Jiddah," the speaker said. "Those who were killed of our brothers, we ask God to accept them as martyrs." The attack was claimed at the time by al-Qaida's branch in the kingdom.
Also Thursday on the same Web site, an audiotape surfaced that was purportedly a recording of the sounds of the consulate attack transmitted via the attackers' mobile phones. Sirens, machine gun fire and shouts of "God is Great!" can be heard. At the end, a man recites Quranic verses and then says: "Humiliation for America the infidel and its allies!"
The speaker in the purported bin Laden tape, speaking in calm and even tones, accused Saudi rulers of "violating God's rules," a common theme of bin Laden, who accuses Saudi rulers of being insufficiently Islamic and too close to the "infidel" United States.
"The sins the regime committed are great ... it practiced injustices against the people, violating their rights, humiliating their pride," the speaker said. He accused the Saudi royal family of misspending public money while "millions of people are suffering from poverty and deprivation."
While calling for change, the speaker scoffed at overtures such as promised municipal elections and a national dialogue Saudi rulers recently initiated to open public debate on democratization and other issues.
"This hasn't changed anything ... the best they can do is that they will go into the elections game as happened before in Yemen and Jordan or Egypt and move in a vicious circle for dozens of years, this is regardless of the fact that it is prohibited to enter the infidel legislative councils," the speaker said.
The main statement was preceded by Quranic verses, a rhetorical device typical of bin Laden.
Saudi Arabia cracked down on Muslim extremists after the May 2003 bombings of three residential compounds in Riyadh brought terrorism home to the kingdom, but has not been able to contain the violence.
Addressing Saudi rulers, the taped statement attributed to bin Laden said: "You must know that people are fed up ... security will not be able to stop them."
Bin Laden, believed hiding in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, last reached out to his followers in October, with a videotape aired on the Arabic TV station Al-Jazeera just before the U.S. presidential elections. In that statement, he for the first time clearly took responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and said America could avoid another such strike if it stopped threatening the security of Muslims.