Ridge downplays alleged al Qaeda tape
Voice claiming to be bin Laden's deputy threatens U.S., allies
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The man charged with protecting U.S. interests at home said a purported al Qaeda tape threatening the United States does not raise levels of concern "any more than they are now."
On the tape, a man who identifies himself as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top aide, says the United States and its allies will pay a "very high price" if detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are tried in military tribunals and face the death penalty.
The tape was aired on the Dubai-based Arab network Al-Arabiya.
"Frankly, it's not news that al Qaeda is targeting the U.S. and our interests," Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told NBC's "Meet the Press." "We're quite aware of that. Without knowing who the source is, and even if we did know, I don't think it rises to anything we should be concerned about any more than we are now."
On CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," he said: "But [coming] from a terrorist, threatening American interests is not really surprising. We take the threat, and have taken [every] threat since September 11, seriously," he said.
The tape makes no mention of bin Laden. It tells those "working or cooperating" with the United States that America is too weak to protect itself or its allies.
"The crusader America will pay a very high price for any harm that will affect any of the prisoners that they are holding," the man says. "Those who are allies or helping America will pay the same price. Those who are handing over our brothers will pay the same price."
If the United States should prosecute those being held at Guantanamo, the speaker says, "it is sentencing its own people."
"We are saying to America one thing: What you saw with your eyes so far are only initial skirmishes," he says. "The real battle didn't start yet."
Montasser el-Zayat, an Egyptian lawyer who represents Islamic fundamentalists, said he is "more than 100 percent sure the voice on the tape was al-Zawahiri's, because it had the same tone and 'expressions.'"
El-Zayat told CNN, "He is my friend, and I know his voice well."
The last purported al-Zawahiri tape was released in May, just after the bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Investigators believe al-Zawahiri played an important role in the September 11 terrorist attacks. He is on the U.S. government's list of most-wanted terrorists because of his indictment in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
Intelligence suggests al-Zawahiri is not far from bin Laden, somewhere along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Al-Zawahiri is bin Laden's closest adviser, as well as his doctor. He has made frequent appearances at bin Laden's side, usually in a trio completed by the late military committee commander Mohammed Atef.