A new audiotape attributed to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden praises the attack on a U.S. Consulate in Saudi Arabia earlier this month and encourages jihadists to mount strikes...

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WASHINGTON — A new audiotape attributed to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden praises the attack on a U.S. Consulate in Saudi Arabia earlier this month and encourages jihadists to mount strikes aimed at preventing the United States from obtaining Middle Eastern oil.

The speaker on the tape refers to three of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers “who left Holy Mecca and hit the United States on its turf,” and excoriates the Saudi royal family, calling its members “U.S.-led apostates” whose policies invite further bloodshed.

At one point, the speaker warns Saudi rulers that they may be toppled, saying they should “keep in mind the fate of the Shah of Iran.”

Within hours after the recording was posted on an Islamic Web site, the CIA concluded that there is “a high degree of confidence” that the speaker is Saudi exile bin Laden, a U.S. intelligence official said yesterday. Unlike other recent messages from bin Laden that were largely directed at a U.S. audience, the latest recording appears aimed primarily at Muslims in the Middle East. It urges them to fight the United States and its regional allies.

In one segment, the speaker exhorts Muslims to support the insurgency in Iraq, saying that “targeting America in Iraq in terms of economy and losses in life is a golden and unique opportunity. Do not waste it to regret it later.”

In another passage, the man identified as bin Laden discusses the price of oil, accusing the United States of seeking to control the region’s vast supplies and keeping petroleum prices depressed.

“Exert all that you can to stop the largest stealing operation that takes place in history,” he says, according to a U.S. government translation of the tape.

Bin Laden, believed hiding in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, last reached out to his followers in October, with a videotape aired on the Arabic TV station Al Jazeera just before the U.S. presidential elections. In that statement, he for the first time clearly took responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and said the United States could avoid another such strike if it stopped threatening the security of Muslims. A U.S. intelligence official said the CIA continues to believe that bin Laden is likely still in hiding in the border regions of Pakistan, although there has been growing speculation that he might be holed up in one of that country’s cities.

The tape’s reference to the Dec. 6 attack — in which five militants shot their way into the compound of the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, killing five non-U.S. employees — showed that it was made recently. Four of the attackers were killed and one was wounded in the consulate attack.

The Saudi government did not respond directly to bin Laden’s speech, but it put on a show of force after the London-based Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia promised to organize widespread demonstrations yesterday in Riyadh, the capital, and Jiddah, a port city.

The threat prompted the Saudi government to close large sections of the two cities during the day as heavily armed security forces set up checkpoints and helicopters buzzed overhead. Some advocates of reform said bin Laden may have timed the tape’s release to coincide with the planned protest.

The opposition group that had called for the protests successfully organized a rare anti-government demonstration in October 2003 in Riyadh and other cities. More than 100 people were arrested.

The group’s leader is Saad Fagih, an exiled physician who operates a Web site and radio show from London that call for the establishment of an Islamic theocracy.

Abdulaziz Qassim, a former religious judge who is a well-known political moderate in Riyadh, said there was pent-up desire for reform in Saudi Arabia, though few in the country would support Fagih’s call for an end to the monarchy.

Information on the Saudi

dissidents in London is from

The Washington Post.