Osama bin Laden, publicly injecting himself into the U.S. presidential campaign four days ahead of election day, said in a videotape aired Friday the United States can avoid another attack like Sept. 11, 2001 if it stops threatening the security of Muslims.
In the segment broadcast, the al-Qaida leader refrained from directly warning of new attacks, although he said: "There are still reasons to repeat what happened."
"Your security is not in the hands of Kerry, Bush or al-Qaida. Your security is in your own hands," bin Laden said, referring to President George W. Bush and his Democratic opponent John Kerry.
"Any state that does not mess with our security, has naturally guaranteed its own security."
Admitting for the first time he ordered the Sept. 11 attacks, bin Laden said he did so because of injustices against Lebanese and Palestinians by Israel and the United States.
In what appeared to be conciliatory language, bin Laden said he wanted to explain why he ordered the suicide airline hijackings that hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon so Americans would know how to act to prevent another attack.
"To the American people, my talk is to you about the best way to avoid another Manhattan," he said.
"I tell you: security is an important element of human life and free people do not give up their security."
After the video was aired, Bush said: "Americans will not be intimidated" by bin Laden.
Kerry criticized Bush for failing to capture bin Laden earlier and said: "I can run a more effective war on terror."
It was the first footage in more than a year of the fugitive al-Qaida leader, thought to be hiding in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The video, broadcast on Al-Jazeera television, showed bin Laden with a long, grey beard, wearing traditional white robes, a turban and a golden cloak, standing behind a table with papers and in front of a plain, brown curtain.
His hands were steady and he appeared healthy.
The Bush administration said it believes the videotape, which carries English subtitles, is authentic and was made recently. A U.S. official noted bin Laden mentions it has been four years since Sept. 11, 2001 and U.S. casualities in Iraq have reached 1,000. That death toll was reached in early September.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the administration did not plan to raise the U.S. threat level for now. The U.S. official said the 18-minute tape lacks an explicit threat and repeats well-worn themes.
Al-Jazeera broadcast about seven minutes of the tape. The station's spokesman, Jihad Ali Ballout, said they aired what was "newsworthy and relevant" and refused to describe the unaired portions, including whether they included any threats.
Before the tape was aired, the U.S. State Department urged the government of Qatar, which finances Al-Jazeera, not to broadcast it, a senior State Department official said.
The U.S. reasoning was the satellite television network should not give a platform to someone who runs terrorist operations and promotes terrorist activites against innocent people, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
There was no way to determine exactly when the tape was made - but it offered evidence bin Laden is alive and following events. Kerry emerged as the Democratic candidate in the spring.
Bin Laden accused Bush of misleading Americans by saying the attack was carried out because al-Qaida "hates freedom." The terrorist leader said his followers have left alone countries that do not threaten Muslims.
"We fought you because we are free...and want to regain freedom for our nation. As you undermine our security we undermine yours," bin Laden said.
He said he was first inspired to attack the United States by the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon in which towers and buildings in Beirut were destroyed in the siege of the capital.
"While I was looking at these destroyed towers in Lebanon, it sparked in my mind that the tyrant should be punished with the same and that we should destroy towers in America, so that it tastes what we taste and would be deterred from killing our children and women," he said.
"God knows that it had not occurred to our mind to attack the towers, but after our patience ran out and we saw the injustice and inflexibility of the American-Israeli alliance toward our people in Palestine and Lebanon, this came to my mind," he said.
Bin Laden suggested Bush was slow to react to the Sept. 11 attacks, giving the hijackers more time than they expected. At the time of the attacks, the president was listening to schoolchildren in Florida reading a book.
"It never occurred to us that the commander-in-chief of the American armed forces would leave 50,000 of his citizens in the two towers to face these horrors alone," he said, referring to the number of people who worked at the World Trade Center.
"It appeared to him (Bush) that a little girl's talk about her goat and its butting was more important than the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers. That gave us three times the required time to carry out the operations, thank God," he said.
Excluding the hijackers, the Sept. 11 attacks killed 2,749 people at the World Trade Center, 184 at the Pentagon and 40 in Pennsylvania.
In planning the attacks, bin Laden said he told Mohammed Atta, one of the hijackers, the strikes had to be carried out "within 20 minutes before Bush and his administration noticed."
Bin Laden also said the Bush administration is like repressive Arab regimes "in that half of them are ruled by the military and the other half are ruled by the sons of kings and presidents."
He said the resemblance became clear when Bush's father was president and visited Arab countries.
"He wound up being impressed by the royal and military regimes and envied them for staying decades in their positions and embezzling the nation's money with no supervision," bin Laden said.
"He passed on tyranny and oppression to his son and they called it the Patriot Act, under the pretext of fighting terror. Bush the father did well in placing his sons as governors and did not forget to pass on the expertise in fraud from the leaders of the (Mideast) region to Florida to use it in critical moments."
The image of bin Laden reading a statement was dramatically different from the few other videos of the al-Qaida leader that have emerged since the Sept. 11 attacks.
In the last videotape, issued Sept. 10, 2003, bin Laden is seen walking through rocky terrain with his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, both carrying automatic rifles. In a taped message issued at the same time, bin Laden praises the "great damage to the enemy" on Sept. 11 and mentions five hijackers by name.
In December 2001, the Pentagon released a videotape in which bin Laden is shown at a dinner with associates in Afghanistan on Nov. 9, 2001, saying the destruction of the Sept. 11 attacks exceeded even his "optimistic" calculations.
But in none of his previous messages, audio or video, did bin Laden directly state he ordered the attacks.
U.S. authorities have long said they believe bin Laden is hiding in a rugged, mountainous tribal region of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan but there has been no firm evidence of his whereabouts for three years.
The last audiotape purported to be from bin Laden came in April. The speaker on the tape, which CIA analysts said likely was the al-Qaida leader, offered a truce to European countries if they pull troops out of Muslim countries. The tape referred to the March 22 assassination by Israel of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin.
Al-Zawahri, bin Laden's Egyptian deputy, has spoken on three recent audiotapes that emerged June 11, Sept. 9 and Oct. 1 this year. In the latest, he called on young Muslims to strike the United States and its allies.