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Bl email bbc { March 28 2002 }

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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 13:39 GMT
Paper 'receives Bin Laden e-mail'

An Arabic newspaper based in London says it has received an e-mail purporting to have come from Osama Bin Laden.

It is unclear whether the e-mail, which paid tribute to Palestinian suicide attacks against Israel as well as the 11 September attacks on the United States, was genuine.

If so, it would be the first proof that Bin Laden had survived US bombing raids against the Taleban and al-Qaeda networks in Afghanistan.

The paper, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, said the message branded as a "betrayal" Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's offer in the name of the Arab world to establish normal relations with Israel if it pulls out of all territory occupied in 1967.

The initiative is at the centre of the two-day Arab summit which came to an end in Beirut on Thursday.

Possible forgery

There has been no proven message from Bin Laden since the height of the Afghan war, and in March, Washington said it did not know whether he was dead or alive.

The newspaper's editor, Abdel Bari Atwan, said he believed the message was from Bin Laden, partly because the language and terminology used matched that of other messages purporting to be from him.

Video taped messages purportedly from the Saudi-born dissident have previously been delivered to an Arabic television station.

I believe, for the last three months or so, [Bin Laden] turned to electronic e-mail simply because he cannot really function as he used to and produce tapes," Mr Bari-Atwan told the BBC.

Asked if the message could have been forged by just anyone, he replied: "It could be but I have a feeling that it is extremely genuine ... because it was sent yesterday [Wednesday] and we haven't received any denial from any part of the world."

Moreover, Mr Bari-Atwan added, that it was "expected" that Bin Laden, who has been stripped of his Saudi citizenship, would dismiss the Saudi initiative as treason.

"The initiative - US-Zionist dressed up as Saudi - by Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz is a plot and one aspect of the repeated betrayal of our causes which have marked the history of the region's leaders," Bin Laden reportedly said.

Tracing e-mail

Mr Bari-Atwan met and interviewed Bin Laden in the mid 1990s.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi did not give the sender's e-mail address or what steps it took to authenticate the message.

Questions have been raised about whether the e-mail, if genuine, could shed light on Bin Laden's fate.

Peter Sommer, a research fellow at the London School of Economics, told BBC News Online that it was possible to follow the route of e-mails, but not always successful.

He said that most e-mails contain information which can provide routing details - the path that the e-mail has taken from origin through intermediate computers and internet service providers.

But the path could be falsified, he said. The point of origin, for example, could be disguised.

He added that tracing the origins of an e-mail is such a lengthy procedure that often the trail goes cold.

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