Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden accused Iraqi Shi’ites of waging ”genocide” against Sunnis and warned of retaliation, according to a new audiotape posted on the internet on Saturday.
The message, the second in as many days purportedly from the Western world’s most-wanted man, came as yet another sectarian car bombing shook Baghdad, killing 66 people in one of the worst attacks this year.
A White House official said the message, if authenticated by United States intelligence services, reflected al-Qaeda’s ”dark vision” and shows that Bin Laden and his supporters ”offer nothing beyond further fighting, conflict and misery”.
The speaker in the audio message posted on Saturday also warned against deploying international forces in lawless Somalia and expressed backing for Islamist forces there.
The voice said Iraqi Sunnis, once dominant under the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein, were being subjected to ”a campaign of genocide at the hands of the gangs of grudge and treachery”, a reference to Shi’ites.
The speaker warned that Iraqi Shi’ites could therefore expect retribution.
”It is not possible that many of the people of the south [who are predominantly Shi’ites] join America and its allies in attacking [the Sunni bastions of] Fallujah, Ramadi, Baquba, Mosul, Samarra, al-Qaim and other cities and villages and [expect] their regions to be spared a reaction and harm,” he said.
The recording emerged on the same day that a group calling itself ”the Supporters of the Sunni Community” claimed a devastating Baghdad car bombing that killed at least 66 people in a Shi’ite neighbourhood, saying it was in retaliation for Shi’ite attacks on Sunnis.
The voice on the tape also accused the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, of being ”treacherous and apostate”.
”The first step required to bring stability to Iraq is to drive out the crusader armies by force, then to punish the leaders of [Shi’ite] parties” who ”lied to the people by telling them that participation in the political process is the way to drive out the occupiers”, he added.
The speaker attacked Iraq’s Sunni Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, lumping him with Shi’ite leaders allegedly deceiving the Iraqi people.
The voice on the tape also endorsed the choice of Abu Hamza al-Muhajer as head of al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch as successor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a US air strike June 7.
”I pray God Almighty that he will be the best successor to the best predecessor … and I recommend to him to focus his fight on the Americans and those who support them,” the message added.
The new statement was posted after the Central Intelligence Agency of the US authenticated a message by the fugitive al-Qaeda leader released on Friday in which he said that jihad, or holy war, would go on in Iraq despite al-Zarqawi’s killing.
The speaker went on to slam Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh as an ”American agent” and urged Somalis to reject his mediation.
”I warn against the tricks of the infidels … such as Ali Abdullah Saleh’s invitation to you and your adversaries to conduct a dialogue in Sanaa,” the speaker said. ”He is an obedient American agent.”
The speaker vowed that his supporters would fight any US or international forces sent to Somalia and reserved the right to punish any countries that provided such forces on their own soil ”and anywhere possible”.
He appealed to Somalis to back Islamic Court forces who took the capital Mogadishu from a US-backed warlord alliance on June 5 and are now led by a cleric accused by Washington of having ties to al-Qaeda.
Bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 2001 attacks in the US, who carries a $25-million US-bounty on his head, was also heard from in an audiotape on June 30 which was authenticated by Washington.
He last appeared in a videotape in October 2004 and his whereabouts are unknown, although he is believed to be hiding out either in Pakistan or Afghanistan. — AFP