World: Al-Zawahri threatens new attacks
Cairo, Egypt — Al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader called Thursday for Muslims to unite in a holy war against Israel and to join the fighting in Lebanon and Gaza until Islam reigns from “Spain to Iraq.”
Ayman al-Zawahri’s taped message, the first from al-Qaida since Israel began offensives against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, was a sweeping recruiting effort that even called on non-Muslims to join the Islamic cause.
Addressing the world’s “downtrodden,” al-Zawahri said non-Muslims should join Islamic militants in the battle against “tyrannical Western civilization and its leader, America.”
“Stand with Muslims in confronting this unprecedented oppression and tyranny. Stand with us as we stand with you against this injustice that was forbidden by God in his book (the Quran),” al-Zawahri said.
Kamal Habib, a former member of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad militant group who was jailed from 1981-1991 along with al-Zawahri, said the appeal to non-Muslims was unprecedented and reflected a change in tactics.
“This is a transformation in the vision of al-Qaida and its struggle with the United States. It is now trying to unite Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims and calling for non-Muslims to join the fight,” he said.
But the Egyptian-born militant saved most of his vitriol for Israel.
“The war with Israel does not depend on cease-fires … . It is a jihad (holy war) for the sake of God and will last until (our) religion prevails … from Spain to Iraq,” said al-Zawahri. “We will attack everywhere.”
The White House dismissed the tape as propaganda aimed at inciting violence.
“It is hardly new for Mr. al-Zawahri, from his place in hiding, to issue threats,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said. “One of the weapons is to use the media, and use the Internet and use mass communications as a way of fomenting hatred and encouraging violence, and this certainly fits into that pattern.”
“Al-Qaida’s military’s capabilities have been significantly degraded and everybody knows that, and so now Ayman al-Zawahri is issuing tapes,” Snow added.
Al-Zawahri said al-Qaida planned to attack opponents wherever vulnerable.
“All the world is a battlefield open in front of us,” he said in portions of the tape broadcast by Al-Jazeera television. “Like they attack us everywhere, we will attack them everywhere.”
Speaking from what appeared to be a television studio, Osama bin Laden’s deputy reissued threats against the United States, specifically for its backing of Israel.
“The shells and missiles that are ripping apart Muslims’ bodies in Gaza and Lebanon are not purely Israeli, but are supplied by all the countries of the crusader coalition,” he said. “We cannot just watch these shells as they burn our brothers in Gaza and Lebanon and stand by idly, humiliated.”
Bob Ayers, a security analyst at London’s Chatham House think tank, said the message was a reminder of al-Qaida’s role as a reference point for radical Muslims. “The real message that they’re sending to all of us is that they’re still there, they’re still effective,” he said.
Al-Zawahri spoke while seated in front of photographs of Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, and Mohammed Atef, also known as Abu Hafs al-Masri, a former bin Laden lieutenant who was killed by a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan in 2001. Their photos flanked a picture of the World Trade Center in flames.
Some observers speculated al-Zawahri’s use of that backdrop was a coded message to al-Qaida followers.
But Evan Kohlman, founder of the U.S.-based al-Qaida tracking organization globalterroralert.com, said the photos were chosen because of the dead militants’ hatred of Israel and support for the Palestinian cause.
He also discounted speculation that al-Zawahri’s call for Islamic unity meant he was holding out a hand to radical Shiites, the backbone of Hezbollah.
“Any idea that this is pro-Hezbollah is wrong,” Kohlman said. “This is anti-Israel. That’s what this is about. With this tape, al-Zawahri seems to be suggesting that the jihad to liberate Palestine is a natural outgrowth of the jihad in Iraq,” he said.
Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Rahhal refused to comment on the al-Zawahri tape.
While backing the fight against Israel, al-Zawahri said every Muslim has a duty “to rise up and seek martyrdom and attack and inflict harm on crusaders” in the battle against U.S.-led forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He accused Arab countries of turning a blind eye to the Israeli offensive against Hezbollah and the Palestinians.
“My fellow Muslims, it is obvious that Arab and Islamic governments are not only impotent but also complicit … and you are alone on the battlefield. Rely on God and fight your enemies … make yourselves martyrs,” he said.
Al-Jazeera did not transmit the entire tape, using selected quotes interspersed with commentary from an anchor. The satellite network said the full tape was about eight minutes long and it aired about half of it. Al-Jazeera would not comment on how it received the tape.
The message was al-Zawahri’s tenth this year. Bin Laden, al-Qaida’s founder, has issued five messages this year.
Al-Zawahri last appeared in a video posted on an Islamic Web site on the anniversary of the London transit bombings.
Associated Press reporters Nadia Abu el-Magd and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.
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