Within hours of the first American bombs' dropping on Afghanistan, the world's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, appeared in a videotape broadcast worldwide in which he taunted the United States and celebrated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Sitting calmly in a rocky outcrop, Mr. bin Laden, the man accused of orchestrating the attacks, vowed that ''America will not live in peace'' as long as the goals of his extremist Islamic group remain unmet.
''Here is America struck by Almighty God in one of its vital organs, so that its greatest buildings are destroyed,'' Mr. bin Laden said, referring to the attacks in which hijacked airliners rammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing several thousand people. ''Grace and gratitude to God.''
Although there was no date on the tape, and no immediate way of establishing where it was made, it appeared to have been carefully prepared so as to have the maximum effect the moment American military operations against Mr. bin Laden and the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan began. In this sense, it suggested a sophisticated enemy, well aware of how modern wars are fought.
Mr. bin Laden said: ''America has been filled with horror from north to south and east to west, and thanks be to God. What America is tasting now is only a copy of what we have tasted. Our Islamic nation has been tasting the same for more than 80 years, of humiliation and disgrace, its sons killed and their blood spilled, its sanctities desecrated.''
The reference to 80 years appeared to be invoking the Western colonization of Arab lands. The entire broadcast was infused with calls based on the argument that Islam has long been humiliated. ''These events have split the whole world into two camps,'' he said. ''The camp of belief and the camp of disbelief.''
It amounted to an evident attempt to rally the entire Islamic world against the United States -- an outcome that the Bush administration and its allies have sought to avoid by saying their argument is with terrorists, not with Islam, and by reaching out to Arab states.
In the tape, Mr. bin Laden, a Saudi-born fugitive, heaped praise on the 19 Arab men identified by American investigators as having hijacked the airliners used in the Sept. 11 attacks. ''God has blessed a group of vanguard Muslims, the forefront of Islam, to destroy America,'' he said. ''May God bless them and allot them a supreme place in heaven, for he is the only one capable and entitled to do so.''
The videotape was broadcast on the Al Jazeera television network, based in Qatar, within an hour of the first American missiles and bombs' striking targets across Afghanistan. It was then broadcast by CNN.
The videotape showed Mr. bin Laden and his top two lieutenants in his organization, Al Qaeda, as well as a fourth man identified by intelligence agents as a spokesman for Al Qaeda. Mr. bin Laden was wearing a mottled camouflage combat jacket over traditional Arab dress, with a white, long-tailed turban. Beside him was a Kalashnikov rifle.
Al Jazeera said the tape was delivered today to its office in Kabul, the Afghan capital, and implied that an unknown courier had dropped the tape outside the office door. Omar Bec, in charge of news gathering for Al Jazeera, said, ''We don't know when it was shot, where it was shot, or how it was shot.''
Mr. bin Laden, looking as untroubled as if he were on a camping trip, used the occasion to vent his hatred of America, champion the cause of the Palestinian people and Iraq, and repeat his vow to drive American troops from the Arabian peninsula.
He said a string of deadly terrorist attacks that American investigators had attributed to Al Qaeda, including the Sept. 11 ''events,'' had split the world into two camps, the Islamic world and ''infidels'' -- and that the time had come for ''every Muslim to defend his religion,'' apparently by espousing terror.
As for the United States, Mr. bin Laden expressed a torrent of contempt. He referred to President Bush as ''the head of international infidels,'' and called the American military operations unleashed against him ''a display of vanity with their men and horses'' that had drawn in ''even the countries that believe in Islam,'' probably a reference to Pakistan and other Muslim countries that have backed the United States.
But perhaps the most chilling passage came with the veiled warning that more terrorist attacks might lie ahead in the United States.
''I swear to God that America will not live in peace before peace reigns in Palestine,'' he said, ''and before all the army of infidels depart the land of Muhammad, peace be upon him.''
This made clear that two immediate objectives of Mr. bin Laden are the removal of American troops from Saudi Arabia and a clear Palestinian victory over Israel.
One of his closest associates, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian-born doctor, also appeared on the tape. Mr. Zawahiri said: ''America is the head of criminals by creating this Israel, this continuous crime for 50 years. The Muslim nation shall not accept this crime.''
Since Sept. 11, statements attributed to Mr. bin laden have been appearing in newspapers and on television channels across the Muslim world, mostly through media outlets that have a record of supporting Islamic militancy. Al Jazeera, in this respect, is an exception, because much of its programming is relatively moderate in tone. Its appeal to Mr. bin Laden almost certainly lies in the fact that it is the Arab world's CNN, with round-the-clock news and public affairs programs that reach every corner of the Muslim world.
The fact that Al Jazeera broadcast the tape today so soon after the attacks, and the fact that it showed Mr. bin Laden and his associates in daylight, made clear that it had been produced in advance.
Where the rocky outcrop might be was anybody's guess, although the fact that the tape was delivered to Al Jazeera in Kabul suggested that it was probably made somewhere in Afghanistan.
Getting the tape to Al Jazeera in time for it to be shown alongside live coverage of the American airstrikes was an act of breathtaking audacity by a man facing what is likely to become the biggest manhunt in history, conducted by the world's greatest military power.
As with so much that Mr. bin Laden has done in the years since he declared a ''holy war'' against the United States, he seemed almost to be mocking America for its inability, so far, to track him down.
Even the setting seemed like an attempt to promote his image in much of the Arab and Muslim world as too wily, too fast-moving, and, at least by his own estimate, too much favored by God, to be beaten by the ''infidels'' of America.
Sitting with Mr. bin Laden wearing traditional Arab dress were two men who have been identified by Western intelligence experts as forming the inner core of Al Qaeda with the 44-year-old Mr. bin Laden.
One of the men shown with Mr. bin Laden was Mr. Zawahiri, 50, a co-founder of Islamic Jihad, the group behind the assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt, in 1981. American investigators identified Islamic Jihad as being behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six people but left the structure of the damaged tower largely intact.
Another man on the tape was Al Qaeda's ''military commander,'' Abdulaziz Abu Sitta, also known as Muhammad Atef or Abu Hafs al-Masri. Mr. Sitta, also an Egyptian with roots in Islamic Jihad, did not speak on the tape. Mr. Sitta, in his forties, has ties to Mr. bin Laden that go back a decade or more, to the time when Mr. bin Laden was first drawn to Afghanistan as an organizer and financier of the Arab militants who helped Afghan Muslim guerrillas defeat the Soviet occupation forces.
Only two days ago, Al Jazeera broadcast another tape, this one apparently made in June, that showed the three men together at what intelligence analysts said was a celebration for the merging of Islamic Jihad and Al Qaeda.
Some counterterrorism experts have theorized that Mr. Zawahiri, said to be an organizational genius, may have been the operational mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
Speaking first on the tape shown on Al Jazeera tonight, Mr. Zawahiri said, ''American people, can you ask yourselves why there is so much hate against America?''
Photo: In a videotape, Osama bin Laden asked God to bless the hijackers. (Al Jazeera via Associated Press)