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Voice on tape bin Laden's, U.S. confirms

American intelligence analysts said Monday that they had concluded that the voice on an audiotape that emerged last week was indeed Osama bin Laden's and that the tape was made quite recently.

The authentication of the tape, while not unexpected, is significant in that it represents an official determination after almost a year of doubt that the terrorist leader is still alive.

The conclusion follows days of intensive analysis of the tape by experts at the CIA and the National Security Agency. The analysis included studies by linguists and translators familiar with bin Laden's voice.

The experts said earlier that the tape appeared to be genuine, but they refrained from saying so definitively, until Monday.

"The intelligence experts do believe that it is, that the tape is genuine," a White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said at a news briefing.

McClellan conceded that the genuineness of the tape "cannot be stated with 100 percent certainty," but he said again that intelligence officials believe it is real.

Until the tape was broadcast last week, there had been speculation about whether bin Laden, the presumed mastermind of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, died in the American-led bombing of the caves in Afghanistan last fall.

Since the tape was a voice recording and not a videotape, like those of a year ago, there has been some conjecture that bin Laden's health has deteriorated or that he is injured _ and hence reluctant to show himself to the world.

But regardless of bin Laden's health, intelligence analysts said on Monday that they had shed their doubts about genuineness of the tape and had concluded that the tape was just what it purported to be when it was broadcast on Al Jazeera, the Arabic satellite television network.

In that tape, the voice now concluded to be that of bin Laden reads a statement promising new terrorist acts against the United States and its allies. The voice mentions the takeover of a Moscow theater by Chechen rebels in late October, the bombing of a nightclub in Indonesia on Oct. 12 and other recent events.

The conclusion announced Monday was anticlimactic in the sense that President Bush and national security officials said earlier that the tape "put the world on notice yet again that we're at war," as Bush said last week.

Even before the authenticity of the tape was established, the details of the message were considered ominous, since it refers to the "criminal gang at the White House" and mentions President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by name, while also warning of further strikes against Western targets.

"As you kill, you get killed, and as you bomb, you get bombed," the voice states.

Administration officials have also said that they were concerned the tape might include hidden messages to al-Qaida followers, and that these might spur further terrorist attacks.

Previously, the last seemingly incontrovertible evidence that bin Laden was alive was recorded on Nov. 9, 2001, when he had dinner with several aides and followers. A videotape of the meal was recovered by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Late in December, another videotape of bin Laden surfaced. He appeared thin, raising questions about his health. References in the tape suggested it was made in late November or early December last year.

The recent audiotape gives little clue to bin Laden's location or his health.

Although his whereabouts are unknown, U.S. officials believe he is probably hiding in a remote mountainous region along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

London's Sunday Telegraph, meanwhile, said Britain's special forces were scouring a tribal region in Yemen for bin Laden. The newspaper reported that many operatives now think bin Laden escaped from Afghanistan before the U.S. began bombing the Tora Bora caves in December.

But a Yemeni official, Yahya Alshawkani, deputy of mission at the embassy in Washington, said Monday that the assumption that bin Laden was in Yemen, was "imagination: I mean, it is not real."

He also said that Yemen would not permit troops to operate inside the country, except for cooperative training exercises such as those conducted recently by the United States.

_ Information from the Associated Press and Cox News Service was used in this report.

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