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'Bin Laden' Tape Offers Truce

In a recording broadcast on Arab satellite networks Thursday, a man who identified himself as al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden offered a "truce" to European countries that do not attack Muslims, saying it would begin when their soldiers leave Islamic nations.

"I announce a truce with the European countries that do not attack Muslim countries," the taped message said as the stations showed an old, still picture of bin Laden.

There was no way to verify the speaker's identity.

The message said the truce would last three months and could be extended. However, the speaker indicated it would not begin right away: "The truce will begin when the last soldier leaves our countries," he said without elaborating.

"They say that we kill for the sake of killing, but reality shows that they lie," the speaker said.

Russians, he said, were only killed after attacking Afghanistan in the 1980s and Chechnya, Europeans after invading Iraq and Afghanistan and the Americans in New York after "supporting the Jews in Palestine and their invasion of the Arabian Peninsula."

"Stop spilling our blood so we can stop spilling your blood," the message added. "This is a difficult but easy equation."

This truce, the message said, is to deny "the warmongers" further opportunities and because polls have shown that "most of the European peoples want reconciliation" with the Islamic world.

The message also vowed revenge for Israel's killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

"We vow before God to take revenge for him from America for this, God willing."

The message said that American policy ignores the "real problem," which is "the occupation of all of Palestine."

It denounced the U.S. war on Iraq, saying it is making "billions of dollars" for companies, "whether those that make weapons or those that take part in reconstruction," naming the American firm Halliburton.

The "truce" offer is one of several recent messages believed to have come from al Qaeda figures.

On April 6, a 33-minute audiotape purportedly from al Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi appeared on a Web site known for distributing militant Islamic messages. A CIA official said the next day that the recording, which called for Iraq's Sunni Muslims to fight Shiites and claiming responsibility for high-profile attacks there, appeared authentic.

In late March, a tape apparently made by key bin Laden adviser Ayman al-Zawahri denounced Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, an ally of the United States who has called for a crackdown on militant groups and been the target of multiple assassination attempts.

Bin Laden's voice was last believed heard on a tape released in early January, in which the speaker claimed that the U.S.-led war in Iraq was the beginning of the "occupation" of Gulf states for their oil and called on Muslims to keep fighting a holy war in the Middle East. Another recording believed to have been from bin Laden emerged in October.

This weekend, the U.S. military pulled back from an earlier prediction that bin Laden would be captured this year, even while preparing its largest force to date for operations along the Pakistani border where the al Qaeda chief is suspected to be hiding.

Buoyed by the capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the top American commander in Afghanistan, Lt.-Gen. David Barno, said in January he was confident bin Laden and Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar would suffer the same fate this year.

At the time, a spokesman even said the military was "sure" it would catch the two men and Afghan rebel commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Those remarks, and talk of a spring offensive in Afghanistan by U.S. defense officials, triggered speculation bin Laden had been located.

There have been no firm indications of bin Laden's whereabouts since he eluded American and Afghan troops at the battle for the Tora Bora cave complex in eastern Afghanistan in December 2001.

Last month, France's defense minister said French troops had recently helped identify an area in Afghanistan where bin Laden could have hidden, but he provided no specific details.

Also last month, Pakistani troops fought a major battle with militants in a remote region near the Afghan border. First reports indicated that al-Zawahri was among the targets, but they were not confirmed.

The U.S. government has offered $25 million for information leading to bin Laden's capture, and a private group has added a $2 million reward.

He is believed linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and attacks on U.S. troops in Somalia, the 1995 attack on the Khobar Towers compound in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 African Embassy bombings, the 2000 Cole attack and the Sept. 11 hijackings, as well as other attacks.