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Bin Laden on tape: Attacks 'benefited Islam greatly'

Osama bin Laden, as seen in videotape released Thursday.
Osama bin Laden, as seen in videotape released Thursday.  

(CNN) -- Osama bin Laden recounts with delight the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States as he talks with associates on a videotape released Thursday by the Bush administration.

Reveling in the details of the fatal attacks, bin Laden brags in Arabic that he knew about them beforehand and says the destruction went beyond his hopes. He says the attacks "benefited Islam greatly."

Bin Laden -- branded by U.S. authorities as the mastermind behind the attacks -- indicates during the recording that he knew for several days that September 11 would be the date of the attacks.

He says he turned on his radio in advance to listen to coverage of the attacks and that he underestimated the damage that would be inflicted on the World Trade Center.

Watch the excerpt of the video of Osama bin Laden obtained by the Bush administration (December 13)

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"I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only," he said, according to a U.S. government translation. "This is all that we had hoped for."

The Bush administration hopes the tape will convince skeptics, particularly in the Muslim and Arab worlds, of bin Laden's complicity in the attacks.

"I think everyone can make their own judgment about it," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. "I know what I think."

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said the tape removes any doubt that the U.S. military campaign targeting bin Laden and his associates is "more than justified."

"Obviously, this man is the personification of evil," he said. "He seems delighted at having killed more people than he anticipated, which leaves you wondering just how deep his evil heart and soul really is."

'Martyrdom operation'

Bin Laden says on the tape that while the hijackers knew they were on a "martyrdom operation," some did not know anything about the plot until just before they boarded the planes. He also says those who were trained to fly didn't know the others.

Bin Laden's associates heap praise on him, fawning over his leadership and insisting that the attacks would draw hundreds of new followers and help showcase Islam.

Even as he showers compliments on bin Laden, one man apologizes for even speaking in bin Laden's presence.

"You have given us hope," said the lieutenant, identified as Shaykh, who apparently hosted a visit by bin Laden at a guest house in Kandahar, according to U.S. officials, who also told CNN he was a Saudi.

Bin Laden talks in detail about the hijackings, saying "Mohamed from the Egyptian family" -- presumed by the U.S.-hired translators to be a reference to alleged hijacker Mohamed Atta -- was in charge of the group. Translators described that as a reference to the Egyptian cell of bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.

The jovial, carefree nature of the conversation captured on the videotape contrasts with the gravity of the subject matter. As bin Laden and his colleagues talk about the collapse of the twin towers, they appear to take delight in the destruction. "Allah be praised," said one man, a phrase repeated throughout the tape. "Overjoyed" is how bin Laden describes the reaction of others.

An elder congratulates bin Laden on the attacks, stating: "The elderly ... everybody praises what you did, the great action you did, which was first and foremost by the grace of Allah. This is the guidance of Allah and the blessed fruit of jihad."

Dreams of tall buildings

Before the attacks, bin Laden said some associates had dreams about tall buildings in the United States.

"At that point, I was worried that maybe the secret would be revealed if everyone starts seeing it in their dream," bin Laden said.

Officials said the approximately hour-long tape, dated November 9 and made in Kandahar, was not shot in chronological order. The later part of the meeting is seen first, followed by unrelated shots of a downed U.S. helicopter and then the first part of the meeting that bin Laden had with associates.

They said they found the videotape in a private residence in Jalalabad, although they cautioned the nature of its discovery was more complicated.

The tape was released by the Bush administration after it weighed concerns over protecting U.S. intelligence sources and methods against the goal of building the public case against bin Laden. Its delay was complicated by the poor audio quality of the tape.

The Bush administration called on four outside, non-government translators to review the tape, to counter possible claims that the White House had doctored it or provided an inaccurate translation.

The tape's release is central to informing people in the outside world who don't believe bin Laden was involved in the September 11 attacks, said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "I don't know how they can be in denial after they see this tape," he said.

Raghida Dergham of the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat said the tape is "a strong piece of evidence."

"It's not going to convince everyone. You will always have some skeptics out there. But it will strengthen the view of those who have thought all along that bin Laden and al Qaeda had been involved," Dergham said. "I think that the level of denial will decrease."


• The White House
• U.S. Department of Defense

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