Bin Laden tape posted on Web

In the recording, bin Laden lambasts the rulers of Saudi Arabia as "corrupt, oppressive" U.S. agents.

An audio recording purportedly by Osama bin Laden, praising gunmen who carried out a Dec. 6 attack in Saudi Arabia, was posted on the Internet on Thursday, suggesting the al-Qaida leader is still alive.

In the recording, the speaker blesses a group of Saudi al-Qaida militants who stormed the U.S. consulate in Jeddah in the first attack on a Western mission in Saudi Arabia.

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He lambasts the rulers of the world's largest oil exporter as "corrupt, oppressive" U.S. agents and warns them they will be toppled in a popular uprising if they do not to allow their people to choose a true Muslim leadership.

"We ask God to be merciful with the mujahideen who stormed the U.S. consulate in Jeddah," said the voice on the tape, which sounds similar to previous bin Laden recordings.

The tape was not dated and its authenticity could not be verified. Bin Laden is widely believed to have been hiding on the Afghan-Pakistan border since U.S.-backed forces toppled his Taliban allies in Kabul in late 2001.

Four militants were killed and a fifth was arrested in the Jeddah attack, the biggest in the country in six months by militants bent on overthrowing the pro-U.S. monarchy and driving Westerners out of the birthplace of Islam.

Saudi-born bin Laden, blamed by the United States for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has repeatedly vowed to rid the "holy land" of the Arabian Peninsula from "infidels." He has also called for the toppling of the Saudi ruling family.

The speaker on the tape blasts Saudi rulers as "corrupt Zionists" who are stooges of the United States and whose rule is an "extension of the crusader wars against Muslims."

He calls for the ousting of the royal family as a precursor to any political change and derides efforts by the government to initiate reform--a key demand by Washington.

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"Some people say that, yes, it (reform) is possible because they started holding national dialogues and they started with municipal elections, but I say that this will not change anything," the speaker says. "The only way to reform is the toppling of the regime through armed struggle."

The man gives Saudi rulers an ultimatum--either allow Saudis to choose their own ruler or face being deposed.

"When nations move to demand their rights, security forces cannot stop them. And you should never forget the fate of the shah of Iran, who fell despite the strength and experience of his security forces," he says.

"The people have awoken from their stupor, they realize the degree of corruption and tyranny which you (Saudi rulers) use to rob them of their rights. Muslims in the country of the two holy mosques insist on regaining their rights at any cost."

Another Saudi opponent of the monarchy, London-based Islamist Saad al-Fagih, has called for pro-reform marches in Riyadh and Jeddah on Thursday.

Fagih said this week that the demonstrations would aim to overthrow the Saudi royal family and predicted that tens of thousands would take part. Police last year broke up a much smaller street protest in Riyadh organized by Fagih.

In October, Al Jazeera television aired the first video tape from bin Laden in over a year. In it, he derides President Bush and warns of possible new Sept. 11-style attacks. The full text was posted on the Internet in November.

Story Copyright © 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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