/ 21 January 2006

‘New’ al-Qaeda audiotape may date back years

An audiotape purportedly from al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri was posted on Friday on an Islamic website in which he read a poem praising ”martyrs of holy war” in Afghanistan, Palestine and elsewhere. There was no indication of when the tape was made.

The tape made no mention of a January 13 United States air strike in Pakistan that was targeting al-Zawahri and killed four al-Qaeda leaders. Al-Zawahri was not believed to have been among those killed. If the tape is new and authentic, it would be the first statement by the al-Qaeda deputy since the attack.

In Washington, officials at two US counter-terror agencies said the recording does not appear to have been made recently, and may even date back years.

The officials described the recording as a poetry reading praising martyrs of wars in Afghanistan, but it was not immediately clear whether that referred to the Northern Alliance action against the Taliban after the September 11 2001 attacks or even to the Afghanistan war with the Soviets in the 1980s.

The CIA was conducting a technical voice analysis to determine whether the speaker was al-Zawahri, a CIA official said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorised to discuss the matter on the record.

The 17-minute tape was posted on an Islamic militant web forum a day after al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden released his first audiotape in more than a year, threatening new attacks in the US and offering Americans a conditional truce.

The purported al-Zawahri tape made no statement, and instead the voice on it was heard reading a long poem honouring ”martyrs of jihad”, or holy war.

He dedicated the poem to ”all Muslim brothers everywhere, to the mujahedin [holy warrior] brothers in Islam’s fortified border lines against the Zionist-Crusader campaign in Palestine and Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya, to the lions chasing the crusaders’ gangs and hired hands in Afghanistan’s mountains and valleys and its wounded capital, Kabul”.

”I am honoured to present this mujahedin poem, written by Maulai Muhibbullah al-Qandahari, who carried the pen and the sword and was known in the circles of scholars and the training camps and the battlefields of jihad,” the speaker said.

He said the poem reminded him of colleagues who died in the jihadist cause, mentioning several by name — including al-Qaeda figures Abu Hafs al-Masri and Abu Ubeidah al-Banshiri, who died in 2001 and 1996 respectively. He did not mention any of the leaders believed killed in the Pakistan strike.

”I felt this poem was my poem … because it lifted my cares and eased my tiredness,” he said, ”I was moved to share it with my fellow mujahedin.”

The poem, titled Tears in the Time of Sobbing, praises the endurance of the holy warriors in their battle, with lines saying they ”went on drinking death, heavy with its bitterness, for God and his religion. Those who believe are the masters of patience.”

The date of the recording could not be immediately determined, and it was not stated in the posting. The Arab news network al-Arabiya, which aired a short part of the tape, said it was new but did not say what led it to that conclusion.

The web forum where the tape was posted and other similar ones often carry statements from al-Qaeda and other militant groups, but participants also often post old recordings.

The January 13 air strike hit a building in the Pakistani village of Damadola, where Pakistani authorities suspect al-Qaeda operatives were gathered to plan attacks early this year in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thirteen villagers were killed in the strike, angering many Pakistanis.

Officials believe at least four foreign militants also may have died, including an al-Qaeda explosives and chemical weapons expert and a son-in-law of al-Zawahri.

Al-Zawahri and Bin Laden are believed to be in hiding in the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Bin Laden’s audiotape, aired on Thursday on the Arab news network al-Jazeera, was his first message since December 2004. Since that time, al-Zawahri put out several video- and audiotapes. — Sapa-AP