DUBAI (Reuters) - Washington's allies were quick to judge the latest videotape of Osama bin Laden to be final proof of his guilt on Thursday, but in the Arab world many dismissed the footage as false propaganda.
While some senior Arab officials declared themselves convinced, it was harder to find ordinary citizens who did and most governments in the region maintained silence on the issue.
"I think this recording is forged ... I don't believe this tape is authentic,'' said Sheikh Mohammad Saleh, a Saudi cleric.
Ali, a Saudi civil servant, concurred. "The picture is real but the voice is not. It could be a voice over,'' he said. He had to watch the videotape on a regional satellite station as Saudi state television failed to broadcast it.
"Do the Americans really think the world is that stupid to think that they would believe that this tape is evidence?'' asked Abdul Latif Arabiat, head of Jordan's mainstream Islamist party the Islamic Action Front.
"In my view this tape has been fabricated by Washington to condemn bin Laden and conceal America's ugly crimes in Afghanistan,'' said Yousef Abdul Hamid, an Amman taxi driver.
A less skeptical Bahraini man said: "If the recording was real, it only adds that bin Laden was aware of the incident but not necessarily that he had planned it.''
"It is possible that another group was behind it but had informed bin Laden about their plan,'' he concluded from the muffled tape, which was accompanied by an official U.S. translation which some Arabs described as inaccurate.
Many in the Islamic world choose to believe theories that the September 11 attacks were a plot by Israeli secret services to discredit Muslims.
UAE CALLS TAPE CONCLUSIVE
However, the United Arab Emirates and a senior diplomat from another Gulf Arab state said they were persuaded of bin Laden's role in the suicide plane attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.
"There is no doubt in my mind that bin Laden was behind those operations. The tape confirms that in a way that leaves no room for doubt,'' UAE Information Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zaid al-Nahayan said.
The videotape was aired in the Middle East by Abu Dhabi Television and al-Jazeera satellite channel after its release by the Pentagon.
It shows bin Laden chatting informally with fellow-militants and saying he had been more optimistic than his colleagues about how much damage the attacks would inflict, but he had not dared hope they would bring down the WTC towers completely.
"It is a confession no doubt about that. But I fear that it will not make bin Laden any less of a martyr when he is killed,'' the Gulf diplomat said.
U.S. forces are bombing an area in Afghanistan where bin Laden and followers are believed holed up.
"If the tape says anything it says the Americans are still looking for evidence, but evidence should come before and not after,'' a Gulf academic said. "The whole thing seems far-fetched.''
A Lebanese resident of the United Arab Emirates however sided with Washington. "The Arabic was not very clear but I think after seeing the tape he is a criminal... whatever the United States said was true.''
Israel called the tape "unequivocally incriminating evidence about the involvement of al Qaeda in terrorism.''
Palestinian officials, locked in a rapidly escalating conflict with Israel which accuses them of complicity in terrorism, had no immediate comment.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the tape "totally vindicates the action that we, the U.S. and the international coalition have taken in Afghanistan.''