Al-Qaida’s deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri praised insurgents in Iraq — particularly Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — and called on all Muslims to support them in a video posted Thursday on the Internet.
The video was dated with an Islamic month corresponding to November 2005 — and al-Zawahri mentions an Oct. 23 earthquake that hit Pakistan and Afghanistan. But it appeared to be the first time the 28-minute video has been made public.
It was not clear why the video was not released soon after the date it was allegedly filmed. Al-Zawahri has appeared in at least three videotapes filmed since November, all of them aired on the Al-Jazeera news network. Thursday’s video was posted on a Web forum used by Islamic militants to issue public statements and videos.
In the footage, al-Zawahri appears sitting, wearing a white turban and a gray robe with a microphone pinned to it. An automatic weapon is leaning against a brown backdrop behind him.
“The Islamic nation must support the heroic mujahedeen (holy warriors) in Iraq, who are fighting on the very front line for the dignity of Islam,” al-Zawahri said, waving his right hand toward the camera.
“And to my brother mujahedeen in Iraq, I say, Stay firm. Stay together. Your enemy has begun to falter, so don’t stop pursuing him until he flees defeated,” he said.
He called on Muslims to support his “beloved brother” Al-Zarqawi, who heads al-Qaida in Iraq. “I have lived with him up close, and have seen nothing but good from him,” al-Zawahri said.
“I warn all Muslims in Iraq: Anyone who impedes the jihad against the Crusader occupiers is a traitor to God and his prophet ... and a traitor to the rest of the Muslims.”
Reached Wednesday evening, two U.S. counterterrorism officials declined immediate comment.
How recently was video made?
It was not clear if the video was made before or after a Nov. 9 triple suicide bombing against hotels in the Jordanian capital Amman that killed at least 60 people, mostly Muslims.
Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack, but the civilian deaths brought widespread criticism of al-Zarqawi, even from some Islamic militants. In the wake of the backlash over the Amman bombings, al-Zarqawi joined his group to a wider coalition of Iraqi insurgent groups and has not issued his own statements since January, apparently seeking to lie low.
In Thursday’s video, al-Zawahri did not mention the hotel bombings and, since the timing was unknown, it could not be known if the comments aimed to show support for al-Zarqawi amid the criticism.
Anniversary of Tora Bora battle
Al-Zawahri — an Egyptian who is Osama bin Laden’s deputy in al-Qaida and is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan — said he was making the video to mark the fourth anniversary of the December 2001 battle of Tora Bora, in which U.S. forces besieged bin Laden and al-Qaida fighters in mountainous caves of Afghanistan.
Al-Zawahri denounced Bush as the “caesar of Washington” and accused him of lying about progress in the war on terror.
“Bush, son of Bush, eliminating Israel is the duty of every believer,” al-Zawahri said.
“If we commit to peaceful action, they will demand we adhere to international laws and treaties that mean nothing to them. If we adhere to that, they will ask us to impose constraint on what they call terrorism and war on Israel. Then if we adhere to that, they will demand we recognize Israel and establish normal relations with it,” he said.
He pointed to Israeli opposition to the Islamic militant group Hamas’ entering Palestinian elections. He did not mention Hamas’ victory in the voting, a possible indication the video was made before the January elections.
In the last al-Zawahri video to be aired — on March 4 — he congratulated Hamas on its victory and offered support.
Al-Zawahri appeared in two other videos in January. On Jan. 19, bin Laden released an audiotape, parts of which were aired on al-Jazeera — the first message from the al-Qaida leader in more than a year.