Al-Qaida video messages of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri can now be downloaded to cell phones, the terror network announced as part of its attempts to extend its influence.
The announcement was posted late Friday by al-Qaida's media wing, al-Sahab, on Web sites commonly used by Islamic militants. As of Saturday, eight previously recorded videos were made available, including a recent tribute to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former al-Qaida in Iraq leader killed by U.S. forces in Iraq in June 2006.
"The elite jihadi media group presents the first batch of al-Sahab videos to be downloaded to cell phones," the announcement said.
Ben Venzke, the head of IntelCenter, a U.S. group that monitors and analyzes militant messages, said it was not the first time al-Sahab has released videos designed for cell phones.
He said the group has been releasing them for years, but that between September and December, a few video messages did not come with versions for cell phones.
"They might just be filling in some of the gaps, or just trying to release some that had come out before," Venzke said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
In a written message introducing the new cell phone videos, al-Zawahri, al-Qaida's No. 2 figure, asked followers to spread the terror group's messages.
"I asked God for the men of jihadi media to spread the message of Islam and monotheism to the world and spread real awareness to the people of the nations," al-Zawahri said.
Videos playable on cell phones are increasingly popular in the Middle East. The files are transferred from phone to phone using Bluetooth or infrared wireless technology.
Clips showing former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's execution in December 2006 showed up on cell phones soon after his death. In Egypt, images showing police brutality have been passed around via cell phones including one video that showed an arrested bus driver being sodomized with a stick by police in the fall 2006.
Video and audio tapes from various Islamist groups including al-Qaida are available on militant Web sites but require a computer and a fast Internet connection — often rare in the region — to download.
But the eight videos currently available to download to cell phones by al-Sahab range in size from 17 megabytes to 120 megabytes, requiring phones to have large amounts of free data capacity. Al-Sahab has promised to release more of its previous video messages in cell-phone quality formats.
The terror network has been growing more sophisticated in targeting international audiences. Videos are always subtitled in English, and messages this year from bin Laden and al-Zawahri focusing on Pakistan and Afghanistan have been dubbed in the local languages, Urdu and Pashtu.
In December, al-Qaida invited journalists to send questions to al-Zawahri. The invitation was the first time the media-savvy al-Qaida offered outsiders to "interview" one of its leaders since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.