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Voice on tape said to be bin Laden's

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SPECIAL REPORT
• Interactive: The hunt for al Qaeda
• Audio slide show: Bin Laden's audio message, 2/03
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DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- The Al-Jazeera television network Sunday released an audiotape it said was made by Osama bin Laden and intended for an American audience.

In the tape, the speaker extends two invitations to the American people: to join the Islam religion "of compassion and justice" and to try to understand why bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorists attacked New York and Washington.

"I want to explain to the American people why we attacked New York and Washington," says the speaker on the two-minute recording, which the Qatar-based network said was left at its offices late Sunday.

Al Jazeera would not divulge any other details about how it obtained the tape, but network representatives said they were confident it was from bin Laden.

CNN has not been able to determine whether the speaker is the al Qaeda leader or when the tape was recorded. CNN correspondent and Arab affairs expert Octavia Nasr said the voice sounded like bin Laden's.

Previous messages from bin Laden typically have been rambling diatribes ranging from 30 minutes to one hour.

"I'm inviting you to understand the message of my attack against New York and D.C., which came as an answer to your crimes," the speaker says in Arabic. "Evil brings evil."

"If we follow the act of these criminal bandits at the White House, the Jewish agents who are preparing to attack the Islamic world and dividing it up, without you opposing them, one would think that you don't understand the attacks at all," the speaker says.

"That's why I tell you, as God is my witness, whether America increases or reduces tensions, we will surely answer back in the same manner, with God's blessing and grace, and I promise you that the Islamic youth are preparing for you what will fill your hearts with horror, and they will target the centers of your economy until you stop your tyranny and terror, until one of us dies.

"We ask God to give us help," the speaker says.

U.S. officials have said they do not know whether bin Laden survived the U.S.-led attacks against al Qaeda and Taliban positions in Afghanistan.

A few hours before the release of the tape, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he believes bin Laden is dead.

"I would come to believe that he probably is dead," Karzai told CNN's "Late Edition." "But still, you never know. He might be alive. Five months ago, six months ago, I was thinking that he was alive.

"The more we don't hear from him, the more time passes, there's the likelihood that he is probably dead or seriously wounded somewhere."

The White House had no immediate reaction to the tape.

"We have seen the reports, and we heard about the fact that this was attributed to Osama bin Laden," said a senior administration official, who did not want to be identified. "We'll take a look at it and examine the broadcast."

The Bush administration has typically withheld comment on alleged bin Laden tapes until U.S. officials were able to look at the material and make their own assessment of credibility.

Former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt said nothing in the tape suggested when it could have been made, except for the reference to the September 11 attacks last year.

Determining who is speaking on an audiotape is a time-consuming process, he told CNN.

"A lot of times, it's just a man or a woman with a good set of ears who's used to doing things like this," he said.

The release of the tape, even with questions about its authenticity, could complicate President Bush's efforts to build American and international support for a possible war with the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Some critics argue a military campaign in Iraq could disrupt the administration's efforts to track down bin Laden and his al Qaeda operatives.

Bush plans to deliver a prime-time address to the nation Monday during which he is expected to answer lingering questions on his Iraq policy, such as why he believes military action might be necessary now and why he believes Saddam poses a unique threat to the United States and the world.

CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace contributed to this story.



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