Osama bin Laden endorsed the new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq in an Internet posting Saturday, and he warned Shiites there against collaborating with the United States in its fight against Sunni insurgents.
In his fifth audio message this year and his second in two days, bin Laden also warned nations not to send troops to Somalia, where Islamic militants have taken control of the capital and much of the south.
Saturday’s message came as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, started a regional tour seeking support from Sunni Arab countries for his national reconciliation plan that contains a conditional amnesty for insurgents excluding al-Qaida members.
Notably, bin Laden’s voice in the 19-minute recording was much stronger than in the message that appeared Friday on the Web, reflecting the defiance of its content.
The authenticity of the recording could not be immediately verified. It was accompanied by a photo of bin Laden above the logo and name As-Sahab, al-Qaida’s media production wing.
U.S.: 'War against humanity'
In Washington, the Bush administration said it was reviewing the tape and trying to determine its authenticity.
“If authentic, the tape demonstrates yet again that bin Laden and al-Qaida continue to use the media to justify their dark vision and war against humanity,” the Bush administration said in a statement.
“These terrorists offer nothing in their ideology and messages beyond future fighting, conflict and misery,” the statement said. “The Iraqi people and the international community will continue to tell these enemies of humanity that their dark vision and atrocities are unwelcome interventions.”
Although no date was given for bin Laden’s message, it was probably made after June 12, when al-Qaida announced that Abu Hamza al-Muhajer was the new head of its operations in Iraq.
Bin Laden gave his support to al-Muhajer, the replacement for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike June 7.
“I pray to God to make him the best successor to the best predecessor,” bin Laden said.
Urges militants to transform Iraq
He urged him to step up “the struggle” to transform Iraq into the center of an Islamic Caliphate. On Friday, bin Laden paid tribute to al-Zarqawi, and denied that the terror organization was involved in sectarian strife in Iraq.
Bin Laden’s message Saturday also urged the leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq to work with other militant groups operating there, saying they should maintain membership in the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization grouping Islamist militants fighting U.S. troops and the Iraqi government.
He also spoke about Iraq’s Shiites, referring to them indirectly as “sons of the south,” where they live in the largest numbers.
“We say that many sons of the south cannot just take part with America and its allies in invading Fallujah, Ramadi, Baqouba, Mosul, Samarra, Qaim and other cities and villages, and expect that their areas will be safe from a reaction and harm,” he said.
He called their political leaders “traitors” and “renegades.”
Unlike al-Zarqawi, bin Laden has not attacked Muslim Shiites or endorsed their killing. Previously, he even urged al-Zarqawi to avoid targeting them.
In an attempt to boost the morale of al-Qaida members in Iraq, bin Laden said that the Islamic community was depending on them.
“Your Muslim nation is looking to you and praying for your victory. ... You are God’s trusted soldiers who will liberate the nation from the serfdom of the crusaders in our countries,” bin Laden’s message said.
“Stay steadfast and don’t leave Baghdad, otherwise all the capitals in the region will fall to the crusaders,” he said, referring to the U.S.-led coalition.
Message to Somalia
Addressing Somalia, which was largely taken over in June by an Islamic militant group, he urged Somalis to support the militants and said they were building an Islamic state in the Horn of Africa.
“You have no other means for salvation unless you commit to Islam, put your hands in the hands of the Islamic Courts to build an Islamic state in Somalia,” he said.
The hard-line Muslim leaders of the Supreme Islamic Courts Council, who have seized control of much of southern Somalia, claimed authority throughout the country Thursday in another slap at the interim government, which sits powerless at its base in Baidoa, 90 miles from the chaotic capital of Mogadishu.
Bin Laden lashed out at the president of Somalia’s secular interim government, Abdullahi Yusuf, calling him a “traitor” and a “renegade.”
His comments on Somalia included a stern warning to leaders of any country, including Islamic ones, against getting involved in the conflict.
“We pledge that we will fight your soldiers on the land of Somalia and we will fight you on your own land if you dispatch troops to Somalia.”
President Bush expressed concern last month that Somalia could become a haven for al-Qaida members like Afghanistan was in the late 1990s. The U.S. has accused the Islamic militias of harboring al-Qaida leaders responsible for the deadly 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.