CAIRO, Egypt — Osama bin Laden defended attacks by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi against civilians in Iraq, purportedly saying in a taped Web message Friday that the slain al-Qaida in Iraq leader was acting under orders to kill anyone who backs American forces.
Bin Laden paid tribute to al-Zarqawi in a 19-minute audio message posted on an Islamic militant Web site. The message has narration by a voice resembling bin Laden’s as a video shows an old photo of him in a split-screen next to images of al-Zarqawi taken from a previous video.
In the message, bin Laden demands President Bush hand over the body of al-Zarqawi to his family and effusively praises the Jordanian-born militant, often in rhyming couplets. His voice sounded breathy and fatigued at times.
“We will continue to fight you and your allies everywhere, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan to run down your resources and kill your men until you return defeated to your nation,” he said, addressing Bush.
It was the fourth message purportedly put out this year by bin Laden. All have featured his voice in audiotapes. New video images of him have not appeared since October 2004.
No immediate confirmation
The authenticity of the video could not be immediately confirmed. It bore the logo of As-Sahab, the al-Qaida production branch that releases all its messages, and was posted on an Islamic Web forum where militants often post messages. Typically, the CIA does a technical analysis to determine whether the speaker is who the tape claims and the National Counterterrorism Center analyzes the message’s contents.
In the tape, bin Laden addressed “those who accuse Abu Musab of killing certain sectors of the Iraqi people,” referring to the campaign of suicide bombings by al-Zarqawi’s followers targeting Shiites. Al-Zarqawi was killed in a June 7 airstrike northeast of Baghdad by U.S. warplanes.
“Abu Musab had clear instructions to focus his fight on the occupiers, particularly the Americans and to leave aside anyone who remains neutral,” bin Laden said.
“But for those who refused (neutrality) and stood to fight on the side of the crusaders against the Muslims, then he should kill them whoever they are, regardless of their sect or tribe. For supporting infidels against Muslims is a major sin,” he said.
Al-Zarqawi’s strategy of attacking Shiite civilians in an attempt to spark a Shiite-Sunni civil war in Iraq raised criticism even among some fellow Islamic extremists, and was apparently a source of some tension between him and al-Qaida’s central leadership, to which he had sworn allegiance.
In July 2005, bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahri reportedly wrote a letter to al-Zarqawi criticizing his attacks on Iraqi Shiite mosques and civilians, saying they hurt the mujahedeen’s image. The Egyptian-born al-Zawahri also asked al-Zarqawi for money, according to the U.S. military, which said it intercepted the message.
Al-Zarqawi apparently brushed off the criticism as he continued to attack Shiites.
Any tension between al-Zarqawi and al-Qaida’s command appeared to have faded this year because al-Zawahri issued three videotapes in which he effusively praised al-Zarqawi — including a tribute video last week similar to bin Laden’s Friday.
The tribute videos appear to be part of an attempt by al-Qaida’s leadership to tout their connection to al-Zarqawi, who emerged as a hero among Islamic extremists with his dramatic attacks in Iraq and even stole the spotlight from bin Laden and al-Zawahri.
Bin Laden’s mention of “instructions” to al-Zarqawi could be aimed to show the al-Qaida in Iraq leader was under his command.
‘One of our greatest knights’
“Al-Zarqawi’s story will live forever with the stories of the nobles, so don’t cry over one who is not missing,” bin Laden said. “He can teach the world a lesson on how to seize freedom ... and how to resist tyrants.”
“Even if we lost one of our greatest knights and princes, we are happy that we have found a symbol for our great Islamic nations, one that the mujahedeen will remember and praise in poetry and in stories secretly and aloud,” bin Laden said.
Bin Laden said Bush should return al-Zarqawi’s body and that Jordan’s King Abdullah II should allow the militant’s family to bury him. The Jordanian government has said it will never allow al-Zarqawi to be buried in his homeland because of a November triple suicide bombing his followers carried out in Amman hotels that killed 60 people.
“What scares you about Abu Musab after he’s dead?” bin Laden said, addressing Abdullah. “You know that his funeral, if allowed to happen, would be a huge funeral showing the extent of sympathy with the mujahedeen.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.