The grainy images showed the men delivering what Attorney General John Ashcroft called "martyrdom messages from suicide terrorists." The tapes are currently being analyzed for both straight content and any other decipherable messages.
The men on the tapes have tentatively been identified as Abd Al-Rahim, Muhammad Sa'id Ali Hasan, Khalid Ibn Muhammad Al-Juhani and Ramzi Binalshibh. The last man, who is from Yemen, is suspected to have connections with Mohammed Atta, one of the September 11th hijackings.
At an afternoon press conference, only three tapes were aired: those of Al-Rahim, Hasan and Al-Juhani. The other two tapes could not be shown because of technical problems; still photographs of the final two men were shown instead.
Despite fears the tapes might contain secret messages or commands, Ashcroft sounded confident nothing was revealed via the public broadcast. "The portions we released today we felt were safe for release and we didn't believe they contained any surreptitious messages or coded signals that would be designed to alert parts of the terrorist networks," he told reporters.
The tape showed the men speaking to a video camera, at times totally subdued, and occasionally agitated. Al-Juhani sat in front of the camera and removed his headscarf before resting his head in his arms in what looked like a gesture of grief. Later he is shown caressing the engraved wooden stock of an AK-47.
The tapes, found by U.S. special forces in Afghanistan, were part of "a trove of valuable information," according to FBI director Robert Mueller. It is not yet clear when the tapes were made or exactly when they came into U.S. possession.
As officials attempt to extract more meaning from the videotapes, the public in the U.S. and particularly abroad is urged to keep an eye out for the men identified in the tapes. "The principle is simple," Mueller said. "An informed and enlightened public works."
Additional reporting by Elaine Shannon/Washington