Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden warned Sunni Muslims in Iraq not to take up arms against the terror network and promised the “liberation of Palestine” in a new online message.
In the 56-minute tape released late on Saturday, the Western world’s most wanted man also accused the United States of seeking to control the region through the Iraqi government, according to Site, a US-based institute that monitors extremist web forums.
He singled out Iraqis fighting against al-Qaeda, and the Islamic Party of Iraq, a political group allied with the government, saying their supporters are traitors to Islam, Site said.
Bin Laden said those fighting al-Qaeda, known as “Awakening” councils, have “betrayed the nation and brought shame and scandal, which will be followed by damnation forever unless they repent”, according to an excerpt translated from the Arabic by Site.
He called on Muslims to rally behind the leader of al-Qaeda’s umbrella group in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
The message, which came in the form of a video displaying a still image of Bin Laden along with an audio commentary, was released on the eve of the first anniversary of the execution of Iraq’s ousted dictator, Saddam Hussein.
Thousands of former Saddam loyalists have now turned into allies of US forces, making them targets of al-Qaeda.
Bin Laden labelled any Muslim cooperating with the US-led Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as an apostate, and accused the US of seeking to set up a separate Iraqi government through which to access oil.
The Iraqi government had “agreed to having large American bases on Iraqi land and giving the Americans all the Iraqi oil they may wish”, he said.
The White House said the message showed the situation in Iraq was improving with Iraqis turning against al-Qaeda, and the importance of the US-led military mission.
“This is a reminder that the aim of al-Qaeda in Iraq is to block democracy and freedom for all Iraqis. It also reminds us that the mission to defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq is critically important and must succeed,” said White House spokesperson Tony Fratto.
“The Iraqi people — every day, and in increasing numbers — are choosing freedom and standing against the murderous, hateful ideology of al-Qaeda in Iraq — and we stand with them.”
Bin Laden vowed the “liberation of Palestine,” saying the mujahedeen would never recognise Israel nor any Palestinian government that does so and warned of “jihad from river to sea … blood for blood and destruction for destruction”.
He also hit-out at Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah for allowing “crusader” troops from the United Nations into Lebanon after its 34-day conflict with Israel last year.
The tape was apparently made after the Middle East peace conference in the US city of Annapolis in late November, which Bin Laden refers to. He made no mention of the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto on Thursday, which Pakistan’s government has blamed on al-Qaeda.
The extremist network is linked to deadly attacks in Iraq, where an insurgency erupted after the US-led invasion of 2003.
Bin Laden has claimed responsibility for the attacks on the United States on September 11 2001, which killed nearly 3 000 people and prompted the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Despite a massive manhunt and a $25-million bounty on his head, he has evaded capture and has regularly taunted the US and its allies through warnings issued on video and audio cassettes.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry on Saturday trumpeted its achievements over the past year, saying most al-Qaeda networks in the country had been destroyed.
“We have destroyed 75% of al-Qaeda hide-outs, and we broke up major criminal networks that supported al-Qaeda in Baghdad,” said ministry spokesperson Abdul Karim Khalaf. — AFP