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THE WORLD

Bin Laden CD Offered in Qatar

Terrorism: Publishing company hawks an $8 disc featuring footage of the Al Qaeda leader.

October 11, 2002|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DOHA, Qatar — The latest CD to hit the streets may not yet be No. 1, but it is climbing the charts.

For about $8, Qataris can buy a 70-minute disc featuring Osama bin Laden discussing his views and urging forceful action against the United States.

The CD includes footage already seen on Arab-language network Al Jazeera and some that has never been broadcast, according to Dar Al Sharq Printing, Publishing & Distribution, which is distributing the disc as part of a deal with the network.

"We think many people will want to see and study this CD," said Mohammed Shareef, an official with Dar Al Sharq. "Sales are good today."

Dar Al Sharq is the parent company of the Al Sharq newspaper and the English-language daily the Peninsula. The two papers carried front-page announcements with the headline "Dar Al Sharq to Market Osama CDs Globally."

A journalist with one of the papers said the deal was "strictly business and information" and does not show any sympathy for Bin Laden's anti-U.S. views. The journalist, who asked not to be identified, noted that U.S. newspapers often publish special sections or books carrying the full texts of historic documents, such as the official investigation into President Clinton.

Although Al Jazeera has sold copies of Bin Laden videos to other media outlets, the CD is thought to be the first venture to make these images available to the public. The disc also includes footage of U.S. military action in Afghanistan.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera has repeatedly scooped other media by obtaining Bin Laden tapes, although it has often been unclear whether the tapes were recorded before or after the Sept. 11 attacks. Whether Bin Laden is alive continues to be a matter of debate.

The Bin Laden CD also illustrates one difference between Qatar and most of its Persian Gulf neighbors. Few nations in the region would allow sales of a CD that contains explosive political viewpoints adamantly opposed by the government.

Qatar's ruling emir, Sheik Hamad ibn Khalifa al Thani, supports the U.S. offensive in Afghanistan and has allowed the U.S. military to use the mammoth Al Udeid Air Base outside the capital city.

But Hamad also has allowed a freer media in Qatar than under his father-predecessor, whom he deposed in 1995 before immediately launching a pro-Western modernization drive. Hamad abolished the Ministry of Information and ended formal censorship, although journalists continue to practice self-censorship, according to the U.S. State Department.

The ruling family is treated reverentially. On many days, a picture of the emir dominates the front page of the papers, accompanying a story about a new economic or educational advance.

The Bin Laden CD will be available in libraries, bookstores, shopping centers and supermarkets, Shareef said. Initially, it will be available only in Arabic. A version with English subtitles is expected within a month.

"We think Americans and others will be interested in this man," Shareef said.

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