By LEE KEATH, Associated Press Writer
2 minutes ago
CAIRO, Egypt - Osama bin Laden plans a new video to be released in the coming days ahead of the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in what would be the first new images of the terror mastermind in nearly three years, al-Qaida's media arm announced Thursday.
The al-Qaida leader has not appeared in new video footage since Oct. 29, 2004, and he has not put out a new audiotape in more than a year.
One difference in his appearance was immediately obvious. The announcement had a still photo from the upcoming video, showing bin Laden addressing the camera, his beard fully black. In his past videos, bin Laden's beard was almost entirely gray with dark streaks.
Rita Katz, director of the SITE Institute, a Washington-based group that monitors terror messages, said bin Laden's beard appeared to have been dyed, a popular practice among Arab leaders.
"I think it works for their (al-Qaida's) benefit that he looks young, he looks healthy," Katz said.
The announcement and photo appeared in a banner advertisement on an Islamic militant Web site where al-Qaida's media arm, Al-Sahab, frequently posts messages.
"Soon, God willing, a videotape from the lion sheik Osama bin Laden, God preserve him," the advertisement read, signed by Al-Sahab. Such announcements are usually put out one to three days before a video is posted on the Web.
IntelCenter, an Alexandria, Va.-based group that monitors Islamic Web sites, said the video was expected within the next 72 hours, before the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 suicide hijacker attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
In bin Laden's last appearance, just before the U.S. presidential elections, he said America could avoid another 9-11 style attack if it stopped threatening Muslims.
Since then, there have been a number of audiotape messages from bin Laden. But there hasn't been one since July 2006, when he praised the slain al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and welcomed his successor.
During his silence, his deputy, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri, has frequently issued videos and audiotapes.
Al-Qaida has regularly produced new messages around the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2006, al-Zawahri called on Muslims to attack the U.S. for jailing militant cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.
"They've always gone out of their way to commemorate it," said Ben Venzke, chief executive officer of IntelCenter.
But the fact that bin Laden is delivering the message is significant, he said. Whether the message will indicate a potential attack will depend on what bin Laden says.
"Historically the anniversary of 9/11 has never been drawn to attacks. It's drawn to video releases," Venzke said. Four months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, al-Qaida began planning its message for the first anniversary, he said. This is the first notice of an anniversary message from al-Qaida this year, but Venzke said we're entering the window when the messages will start to appear.
In Washington, officials had no immediate comment on the announcement of an impending release.
One U.S. counterterrorism official agreed it would not be unusual or surprising for al-Qaida to mark the anniversary by releasing messages from bin Laden or another senior member of the group.
But without having seen the message and with only one still photo apparently available from the tape, the official could not speak to its importance. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of intelligence matters, said it was too early to determine any significance the tape might have.
Associated Press writers Sarah DiLorenzo in New York and Eileen Sullivan and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.