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Dead or Alive, a Loser

November 14, 2002

An audiotape presumed to be from Osama bin Laden and obviously meant to unsettle the United States and its allies actually serves as a reminder of the proven benefits of international cooperation against terrorism.

The tape, delivered like previous missives to the Arabic-language Al Jazeera television network, hails the Oct. 12 terrorist bombing in Bali, Indonesia, where nearly 200 people were killed, and Chechen rebels' Oct. 26 seizure of about 750 Moscow theatergoers, in which all of the rebels and more than 100 of their victims were killed during Russian efforts to free the hostages. The voice condemns the United States and Israel -- Bin Laden's usual targets -- and assails Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany and Australia for "attacking us in Afghanistan."

Adherents to the twisted version of Islam preached by Bin Laden will welcome the tape as evidence he is alive. Most of the rest of the world can derive some satisfaction from the progress made in weakening Bin Laden's network over the last year.

Recent reports that Taliban and Al Qaeda members are regrouping in Pakistan and warnings of possible terrorist attacks in Europe are reminders of the need for vigilance and action. But in today's world, potential targets understand the threat and are acting against it.

More than 100 nations have cooperated in seizing extremist organizations' funds, sharing intelligence and arresting individuals. One notable success was the September arrest of Ramzi Binalshibh in Pakistan, a joint effort of U.S. and Pakistani law enforcement. Binalshibh was a roommate of hijacker Mohamed Atta and has called himself the coordinator of the 9/11 attacks.

An even bigger success has been driving Al Qaeda from its headquarters in Afghanistan and removing from power its protector, the Taliban.

The delivery of an audiotape -- but no video -- may indicate that Bin Laden is ill or has changed his appearance. In any case, the alarming rhetoric remains intact and has been expanded to portray Iraq as the target of an anti-Muslim campaign by the United States and its allies.

True, the failure of U.S. forces to capture Bin Laden stings. If he indeed is alive, he remains a voice of support for bomb makers and hostage takers. Dead, he would be a martyr to his believers. Either way, followers bent on terrorism -- at his order or acting on their own -- need to be identified, stopped and prosecuted. With many nations continuing to pool their efforts, the chances of success are multiplied.

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