Al-Qaida's No. 2 leader slurred Barack Obama with a demeaning racial term for a black American who does the bidding of whites in a new Web message posted Wednesday.
Ayman al-Zawahri's speech was al-Qaida's first reaction to Obama's election victory — and it suggested the terror network is worried the new American leader could undermine its rallying cry that the United States is an enemy oppressor.
Obama has been welcomed by many in the Middle East who hope he will end what they see as American aggression against Muslims and Arabs under President George W. Bush. Some believe his race and Muslim family connections could make him more understanding of the developing world's concerns.
Al-Zawahri dug into U.S. racial history to try to directly knock down that belief and argue Obama will be no more sympathetic than white leaders to what the al-Qaida leader called "the oppressed" of the world.
He said Obama was the "direct opposite of honorable black Americans" like Malcolm X, the 1960s Muslim African-American rights leader, who is known among some in the Arab world and seen as a symbol of anti-imperialism.
Al-Zawahri also called Obama — along with secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice — "house Negroes."
Reference to slavery
The video included old footage of speeches by Malcolm X in which he explains the term, saying black slaves who worked in their white masters' house were more servile than those who worked in the fields. Malcolm X used the term to criticize black leaders he accused of not standing up to whites and discrimination.
Speaking in Arabic, al-Zawahri used the phrase "abeed al-beit," which literally translates as "house slaves." But in the video message, posted on Islamic militant Web sites Wednesday, al-Qaida supplied English subtitles of the speech that translated the phrase as "house Negroes."
In Washington, White House press secretary Dana Perino said the tape is a reminder that al-Qaida is irrational.
" What we have here is more despicable and pathetic comments by al-Qaida terrorists," Perino said. "And in America, we are going to have a smooth transition from one administration to the next, and that will be a period of change in our country. What won't change is our commitment as a country to fighting terrorism. And I think that these comments just remind everybody of the kind of people that we're dealing with."
There was no immediate reaction from Obama's transition team.
'Heart full of hate'
The 11-minute, 23-second video featured an audio message by al-Zawahri, played over a still image of the al-Qaida No. 2.
The video graphics underlined the contrast al-Zawahri aimed to show: On one side of the screen was a photo of Obama wearing a Jewish skullcap and meeting Jewish leaders. On the other side was a photo of Malcolm X praying in a mosque. Interspersed was footage of Malcolm X talking of a "worldwide revolution" against the "Western power structure."
Al-Zawahri addressed "all the world's weak and oppressed," and warned them: "America has put on a new face, but its heart full of hate, mind drowning in greed and spirit which spreads evil, murder, repression and despotism continue to be the same as always."
Accuses Obama of turning back on heritage
He accused Obama of turning his back on his heritage to gain power.
"You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims, and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim to be Christian, in order to climb the rungs of leadership in America," he said.
"It appears that you continue to be captive to the same criminal American mentality towards the world and towards the Muslims," he said.
Jeremy Binnie, an analyst with Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center, said al-Zawahri's message suggests al-Qaida leaders are worried "that Obama could be effective in rebuilding America's image."
"They hated Bush, but Bush was good for them in many ways because he was such a polarizing figure. But Obama seems at the moment to be a more uniting figure," Binnie said. "Al-Qaida very much would like the U.S. to stay with its old policies that put it in opposition to much of the Muslim world."
Warning on Afghanistan
Al-Zawahri proclaimed Obama's victory a sign that Americans had realized the failure of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He urged Islamic militants everywhere to continue their jihad, or holy war, saying, "Your enemy's stagger has begun, so don't stop hitting him."
Al-Zawahri said Obama's plan to shift troops to Afghanistan is doomed to failure, because Afghans will resist.
"Be aware that the dogs of Afghanistan have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious, so send thousands after thousands to them," he said.
Al-Zawahri specifically addressed al-Qaida fighters in Iraq, saying, "your enemy has admitted defeat," and that as U.S. troops withdraw, "you must persevere, for victory is in an hour of perseverance."
He also told Islamic militants in Somalia, who have been capturing towns in an advance against the tenuous central government, "don't put down your weapons before the Mujahed state of Islam ... has been set up in Somalia."