NBC News and news services
updated 11/24/2004 5:40:14 PM ET 2004-11-24T22:40:14

An audiotape purportedly made by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and posted on a Web site Wednesday lashed out at Muslim scholars for not speaking out against U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying they have “let us down in the darkest circumstances.”

The authenticity of the tape could not be immediately confirmed, however.

And a senior U.S. intelligence official told NBC that the audio was in fact not new, but an old tape originally aimed at Saudi clerics that had been re-edited to make it appear that al-Zarqawi was criticizing Iraqi clerics.

"The tape is nearly a year old, and the clerics he was criticizing in that tape were Saudi clerics," the official said. "We would steer you way clear of the notion that he was criticizing Iraqi clerics."

The intelligence community was uncertain about who was broadcasting the statement and the motivation, the official said.

Decrying ‘silence on crimes’
“You have let us down in the darkest circumstances and handed us over to the enemy. ... You have quit supporting the mujahedeen,” al-Zarqawi purportedly said on the tape. “Hundreds of thousands of the nation’s sons are being slaughtered at the hands of the infidels because of your silence.”

The comments were addressed to the “ulama,” senior Muslim religious clerics.

Al-Zarqawi, who leads the most feared terror group in Iraq, is believed to have escaped from his headquarters in the insurgent-held stronghold of Fallujah during the massive U.S.-led assault earlier this month.

“You made peace with the tyranny and handed over the countries and the people to the Jews and Crusaders. ... When you resort to silence on their crimes, when you refused to hold the banners of Jihad and Tawhid, and when you prevented youth from heading to the battlefields in order to defend the religion,” he said.

“Instead of implementing God’s orders, you chose your safety and preferred your money and sons. You left the mujahedeen facing the strongest power in the world,” he said. “Are not your hearts shaken by the scenes of your brothers being surrounded and hurt by your enemy?”

Sunni clerics killed
This week, two Sunni clerics who were part of an influential Sunni group that openly called for a boycott of Jan. 30 national elections because of the U.S. offensive against Fallujah were assassinated by gunmen.

On Tuesday, Sheik Ghalib Ali al-Zuhairi, was killed as he left a mosque after dawn prayers in the town of Muqdadiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad, police said.

His assassination occurred a day after another prominent Sunni cleric was killed in the northern city of Mosul — Sheik Faidh Mohamed Amin al-Faidhi, who was the brother of the association’s spokesman. It was unclear whether those two attacks were related.

The audio message appeared as U.S. and Iraqi security forces continued their search for al-Zarqawi after reports that he was in the region north of Baghdad. The United States has placed a $25 million bounty on his head.

His group, which now calls itself al-Qaida after being formerly named Tawhid and Jihad, is believed responsible for dozens of deadly bombings and gruesome beheadings of foreign hostages.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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