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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 23:57 GMT
Arabs divided over Bin Laden tape
Men in a barber's shop in Sidon, Lebanon watch the Bin Laden tape
Some Arabs are convinced the tape is fake
Frank Gardner

Arabs are divided over the authenticity of the videotape released by the Pentagon that allegedly proves that Osama Bin Laden is guilty of the terror attacks on the United States.

The United Arab Emirates Government said the tape confirmed that Bin Laden was behind the 11 September attacks on Washington and New York, and that Arabs should punish his organization, al-Qaeda.

Osama Bin Laden in the videotape
The Americans say the tape was found in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad
The Gulf State's information minister said the tape confirmed Bin Laden's guilt beyond doubt.

He said that Arabs and Muslims should now punish Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network for, as he put it, offending Islam and the Arabs.

This is exactly the Arab reaction that Washington was hoping to hear.

But many ordinary Arabs are convinced that the tape is a fake.

Men in an Egyptian coffee shop watch the video
Washington believes the tape proves Bin Laden's guilt
Many believe the videotape is a PR gimmick dreamed up by the US administration.

They still refuse to concede that Bin Laden - or any Arabs - were behind the attacks of 11 September.

Some Saudis have questioned whether the man on the tape really is Bin Laden.

They say he is not thin enough, that he is a different person from the gaunt, turbanned figure who released his own videotaped messages a few weeks ago.

In Cairo, some Egyptian Islamists are suggesting that the US government has spent the last few days concocting the tape to fool the world.

But in London, a leading Saudi dissident, who asked not to be named, told the BBC he was sure the tape was genuine because of the language used and topics discussed.

Unfortunate timing

However, he said the tape's release would only increase popular Arab support for Bin Laden, proving, he said, that he had the power to hurt America.

The timing of the tape's release is certainly unfortunate for Washington, coming as it does amidst massive Israeli retaliation against the Palestinians.

The tape's potential effect, therefore, is largely lost on an angry Arab public.

Even though many moderate Arabs may now be convinced of Bin Laden's guilt, their attentions are more focused on the misfortunes of the Palestinians today than on what happened in New York three months ago.

See also:

13 Dec 01 | South Asia
Osama Bin Laden transcript excerpts
10 Nov 01 | Middle East
US-Arab relations 'in crisis'
08 Nov 01 | Middle East
Gulf crackdown on terror cash
04 Nov 01 | Middle East
Arabs push for Palestinian state
03 Nov 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden denounces Arab 'infidels'
25 Oct 01 | Middle East
Arabs see advantage in terror war
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