Video: Al-Qaida leader releases videotape

NBC News and news services
updated 6/17/2005 8:14:03 PM ET 2005-06-18T00:14:03

Al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader released a new video, broadcast on Al-Jazeera television Friday, in which he disparaged the U.S. concept of reform in the Middle East and said armed jihad is the only way to bring change in the Arab world.

The message by Ayman al-Zawahri — his first video since February — appeared to be an attempt by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network to co-opt the rising wave of reform movements in the Middle East.

“The removal of the Crusader and Jewish invaders won’t occur by peaceful demonstrations,” he said in a brief clip shown on the pan-Arab network. “Reform and expelling the invaders from the countries of Islam won’t happen except through fighting for God’s sake.”

The Egyptian was shown in the video sitting before a plain backdrop with an automatic weapon leaned next to him. He wore a white turban and black and white robes. At one point, he glanced to the left at something off-camera.

He outlined what he called a true program for reform — based on the rule of Islamic law, the end of U.S. and Western domination, and the freedom of the Muslim nation to run its own affairs.

Tape: No reform under Crusaders
“We cannot imagine any reform while our countries are occupied by the Crusader forces,” he said. “We cannot imagine any reform while our governments are being ruled from the American embassies in our countries.”

The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera aired three short segments of the video, without saying how long the full message was. Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout said the station received the tape Friday, but would not provide details. Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan, the Pakistan bureau chief of Al-Jazeera said they didn’t receive al-Zawahri’s tape in Islamabad.

In one of the aired clips, al-Zawahri called on Palestinian militant groups to end a cease-fire with Israel and stay out of upcoming legislative elections in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Al-Zawahri urged them “not to forsake their jihad, not to lay down their arms ... and not to be dragged into the game of secular elections under a secular constitution.”

The militant group Hamas is planning to enter the elections, a major change from its longtime boycott of Palestinian Authority politics.

Regional governments slammed
The newscaster said in other parts of the tape, al-Zawahri denounced sexual assaults on women during anti-government protests last month in Egypt and sharply criticized the Pakistani, Saudi and Egyptian governments, the newscaster said.

Al-Zawahri is an Egyptian-trained doctor who served time in prison in Egypt for Islamic militancy. After his release, he moved to Afghanistan where he merged his militant faction with bin Laden’s in the late 1990s.

In February, Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape purporting to show al-Zawahri denouncing U.S. calls for reform in the Middle East and urging the West to respect the Islamic world.

Zawahri and bin Laden, believed to be hiding in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, have eluded capture since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities carried out by al-Qaida.

Is it a signal to militants?
On at least seven occasions in the past six years, a statement by al-Zawahri has been followed by a significant al-Qaida attack within three weeks, an NBC News analysis of the statements show. In four cases, the attacks came within a week. 

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say that while they cannot conclusively link all the attacks to the statements, they say the statements have to be taken seriously because of an apparent pattern.

One described U.S. fears that al-Qaida operatives use the statements as possible "go signals" to initiate attacks. This official also noted that al-Zawahri's call to arms that aired on Dec. 19, 2004, was a key factor in the U.S. decision to raise the terrorism threat level two days later.

The four occasions where an al-Zawahri statement was most closely followed by an attack were:

NBC News Producer Robert Windrem and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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