Joyce M. Davis --Knight Ridder News Service
The organization of militant Saudi Arabian exile Osama bin Laden sent another communique to his followers yesterday that appears to soften his earlier inflammatory rhetoric, urging Muslims to avoid striking civilian targets as they intensify the battle to "liberate Muslim countries from the crusaders and the Jews." PageName_2In the new message, said to have been sent from bin Laden's camp in Afghanistan and signed by Sheik Abdullah Abu al-Farouq, the leader of the political wing of bin Laden's World Islamic Front, Muslim fighters were told to "make a jihad holy war for the cause of God and against enemies of Islam and Muslims, and do not direct your weapons to your brother Muslims." "And avoid civilians. Direct your attacks to the American army and her allies, the infidels." The latest communique also warned of further attacks and listed the countries that bin Laden's supporters consider the worst "infidel" nations, including the United States, Great Britain, France, Israel, Russia, Serbia and India. The United States believes that bin Laden's organization was involved in the recent bombing attacks on U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. President Clinton ordered cruise missile attacks last week against what officials believe was bin Laden's haven in Afghanistan, and against a factory in Sudan that U.S. investigators said was producing a key ingredient of nerve gas. In another development yesterday, U.S. intelligence sources said a soil sample obtained clandestinely led the administration to conclude that the Sudanese plant was developing the ingredient in deadly VX nerve gas. In an echo of the controversy over the bombing of a purported baby formula factory during the Persian Gulf War, Sudanese officials have protested to the United Nations that the El Shifa Pharmaceuticals plant made medicine, not weapons. Information also showed ties between senior executives of the plant and known terrorist groups, including the one headed by bin Laden. Intelligence also linked these executives to people involved in Iraq's weapons development, including Emad Al Ani, known as the father of Iraq's chemical weapons program. Under pressure to back up its claim, the Clinton administration let U.S. intelligence officials discuss yesterday some of the evidence that led to the decision to strike. The sample showed traces of a substance called EMPTA, or O-ethylmethylphosphonothioic acid - a material with no commercial uses that is a key ingredient of VX. But the administration also conceded for the first time, after eyewitness accounts from the smoldering ruins of the El Shifa plant, that the facility probably also manufactured medicines. Bin Laden once had an older half brother who lived in Texas, the San Antonio Express-News reported yesterday. The relative, Salem bin Laden, lived and worked in Central Texas until his death in a 1988 ultralight aircraft crash, the newspaper reported. Friends and associates of Salem bin Laden say his family disowned Osama bin Laden as the younger man's politics and world view turned militantly anti-American. While other family members cultivated ties to the United States, the radical son took a different path. Osama bin Laden's supporters in London say he was not at his hideout in Afghanistan when the attacks occurred and say he has since left the country. Bin Laden's communique also said supporters are scattered around the globe and have operated and have "achieved great victories" in "Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, the Hijaz Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Kenya, Eritrea, the United States, Chechnya, the Philippines, Burma, China, Kashmir, Uzbekistan, Tashkent, Samarkand and other regions of Russia." Although the communique, faxed to Knight Ridder from bin Laden's supporters in London and translated from Arabic, contained only praise for those engaged in jihad against the United States and its interests, it was clearly softer than bin Laden's previous statements, which warned that civilian and military targets would be treated equally. "But this is, indeed, his thinking now," said Sheik Omar Barkri, bin Laden's spokesman in London. "This message was approved by the sheik." In a fatwa, or religious ruling, said to have been issued by bin Laden in February and printed in Arabic language newspapers, bin Laden called upon his followers to "kill the Americans, civilians and military." He justified the call to kill civilians by saying "U.S. aggression is affecting Muslim civilians, not just the military." But Muslim leaders and scholars throughout the world have been intensely critical of the bombings of the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, noting that many Muslims and many African civilians were killed in the attack. This report contains material from The Associated Press.