LONDON -- Staunch US ally Australia responded to a new videotaped message from Osama bin Laden by underlining its resolve to "confront and defeat" terrorism, and international specialists said the message was a clear attempt to influence the US presidential election.
Around the world, observers debated what impact the dramatically timed message would have on the US election, which will be held Tuesday.
"Whenever he says these things, and whenever these Islamic extremists and fanatics say these things, our message to them is a simple message, and that is: 'We will defy you and we will defeat you, and countries like Australia must not flinch in the face of these fanatics,"' said Foreign Minister Alexander Downer of Australia.
Many saw the tape -- in which the Al Qaeda leader warned Americans not to "mess" with the security of Muslims -- as an attempt to influence the US presidential vote.
"Bin Laden shocks US," was yesterday's headline in the Financial Times newspaper in Britain. "Bin Laden to US voters: your fate is in your hands," said the front page of The Daily Telegraph. On websites devoted to extremist Muslim comment, contributors reacted with glee to the tape, saying it was proof bin Laden was alive and was a "slap" at America.
Montasser el-Zayat, a Cairo-based lawyer who defends Islamic radicals, said the video amounted to an "unprecedented attack on Bush at a very critical time, before the US elections."
Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St. Andrews University in Scotland, called the tape "a very crude but sinister attempt to try to influence the presidential election."
"The US authorities must take the threat of violence seriously," he told the BBC.
On the video, an apparently healthy bin Laden acknowledged for the first time that he ordered the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and taunted Bush by suggesting he was slow to respond. The Al Qaeda leader mentioned Bush continuing to read to children in Florida while the attacks were underway. "That gave us three times the time we needed to carry out the operation, thanks be to God," bin Laden said on the tape.
Diaa Rashwan, a Cairo-based specialist on extremist Muslim militants, said bin Laden was trying to influence Americans "to give Kerry their votes, not Bush."
Many felt the tape would have the opposite result. "Bush supporters are confident the video will be widely seen as an attempt to blackmail the nation into changing course, something that can only play to the advantage of the incumbent," noted Britain's Daily Telegraph.