Osama bin Laden alive and leading the jihad

Fugitive al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri claimed in a new videotape aired on Wednesday that the network’s leader Osama bin Laden was still alive and leading “jihad” against the West.

The turbaned Islamist also called on al-Qaeda fighters to attack oil installations in Muslim countries, according to al-Jazeera television which broadcast the video.

“Al-Qaeda for holy war is still, thanks to God, a base for jihad. Its prince Osama bin Laden, may God protect him, still leads the jihad,” Zawahiri said in videoclips screened by the Qatar-based satellite channel.

US officials believe that Bin Laden, the Western world’s most wanted terror mastermind, and other key al-Qaeda militants have been sheltering somewhere along the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

However his fate is unknown. Bin Laden has not been heard of since a December 27, 2004 audiotape in which he anointed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Iraq’s most wanted man, as al-Qaeda’s leader in the war-torn country.

Bin Laden’s last video appearance dates back to December 16 last year when he also called on his fighters to strike Gulf oil supplies and warned Saudi leaders they risked a popular uprising.

In Wednesday’s tape Zawahiri was quoted by al-Jazeera as calling for attacks on oil installations in Muslim nations “because most of the revenues of this oil go to the enemies of Islam”.

Al-Jazeera said the tape appeared on a website but there was no indication of when it was recorded.

A bespectacled Zawahiri appeared in good health in the new videotape, wearing a traditional white robe and black turban which observers say was an apparent sign of allegiance to the ousted Taliban militia in Afghanistan.

“All the lies that [US President George] Bush tries to delude the Americans with, saying that he destroyed half, or three quarters of al-Qaeda are but nonsense merely in his own head,” he said.

“We want to tell all the Muslims and the mujahedeen [fighters] that al-Qaeda, thank God, is expanding and increasing in strength,” he said.

“It has become with God’s will a natural popular organisation that is confronting the new Crusader-Zionist campaign to defend all violated Muslim territories.”

He said Muslims from all Muslim nations were joining al-Qaeda in “combatting all the apostate and collaborating regimes,” referring to Arab and Muslim governments allied to the West.

It was Zawahiri’s first appearance since a videotape on September 19 when he claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks on London’s transport system in July.

Al-Jazeera, which often carries al-Qaeda audio and video tapes, on August 4 aired a video of Zawahiri warning Britain and the United States of more attacks, exactly four weeks after the London carnage, which was followed by failed copycat attacks a fortnight later.

The al-Qaeda network has claimed terror attacks around the world, including the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The United States believes Zawahiri, who has a $25-million bounty on his head, is the main strategist and key ideologist in the hierarchy of al-Qaeda.

Zawahiri has been implicated in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the massacre of foreign tourists in the Nile resort of Luxor in 1997.

An eye surgeon by training from a wealthy Egyptian family, he faces a death sentence in Egypt.

Before becoming bin Laden’s right-hand man, he was the leader of the Jihad group, which spearheaded with the Jamaa Islamiya organisation a wave of attacks that rocked Egypt in the 1990s. - Sapa-AFP

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