WASHINGTON - The government sought Friday to pinpoint when Osama bin Laden recorded his most recent warning about planned attacks on the United States - a key fact that could help determine the risk that terrorists will carry out the threat.
Intelligence officials said analysts were scrutinizing the audio tape by the al-Qaida leader for any clues - including certain words and phrases - that might be a signal for the terror network's members or followers. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
The Homeland Security Department said it had no plans to raise the nation's terror threat alert level and no reason to believe an attack was imminent.
"We, of course, have been very concerned about the threat of terrorism, generally, since the attacks of 9/11," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said. "And obviously we expect the American people to live their lives as normally as possible."
"We clearly understand that we have a very real threat against the United States, United States interests here and abroad," Gonzales said. "And that we ought to be doing everything that we can do to protect America against that threat."
The audio recording was the first public statement by bin Laden since December 2004. That is the longest stretch the terror leader has been publicly quiet since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
A counterterror official said analysts believe the tape appears to have been recorded since December, although it was not clear how recently - or if in response to U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan last week that Pakistani authorities said killed four senior al-Qaida operatives.
Arab television network Al-Jazeera, which released the tape Thursday, initially reported it was made in December but corrected itself later to say it was recorded in January. Editors at the station said they could not comment on how they knew when it was made.
John Rollins, a former Homeland Security intelligence official, said the timeline is important because terror threats can lose credibility as time goes on without an attack.
"If you can date it back as being from weeks or months ago, and he's saying then that he's getting close to operation readiness, this gives you an indication that it's bravado," said Rollins, now a terrorism expert at the Congressional Research Service.
But if the threats were recorded very recently, "then that does raise the bar to more concerns that the timing of the tape may coincide with actual plans that are under way," Rollins said.