An audiotape that surfaced Friday, purportedly by al-Qaida’s second-in-command, urged Muslim youths to carry out pre-emptive strikes against the United States and its allies.
The tape, which was aired by Al-Jazeera television, identified the speaker as Ayman al-Zawahri, an Egyptian-born confidant of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Following a technical analysis, a U.S. intelligence official said authorities were able to determine with “high confidence” that the voice was that of al-Zawahri.
Less than a month ago, a videotape showed al-Zawahri proclaiming that the United States would be defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan.
‘If we die or are detained ...’
The tape that aired Friday urged young Muslims to fight on even if al-Qaida leaders were killed or captured.
“You, youth of Islam, this is our message,” the speaker said. “If we die or are detained, continue the path after us, and don’t betray God and his prophet, and don’t knowingly betray the trust.”
Dia’a Rashwan, an expert on radical Islam at Egypt’s Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, played down the significance of such remarks.
“According to his belief, being killed is normal and expected, especially in his case,” Rashwan said. “This is not the first time he has said this. It doesn’t mean they are close to being captured or killed.”
There is a $25 million U.S. bounty for information leading to the death or capture of either bin Laden or al-Zawahri.
Special message for youth
The tape surfaced hours after President Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, debated the U.S. war on terrorism and the search for bin Laden. The date the audiotape was made could not be determined from the segments that were aired.
The tape threatened interests of the United States and many of its allies and urged young Muslims not to hesitate in acting against them.
“The youth must not wait for anyone and must begin resisting from now and take experience and lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan and Chechnya,” the speaker said.
Rashwan said al-Zawahri’s comments appeared to be calling for a new strategy of pre-emptive strikes.
“He’s saying Muslims should attack before their countries are occupied. He is calling for action instead of reaction,” Rashwan said.
The speaker generally sounded more upbeat than on previous tapes attributed to al-Zawahri.
“The interests of the Americans, British, Australians, French, Polish, Norwegians, South Koreans and Japanese are spread everywhere,” the speaker said. “We must not wait more ... or we will be devoured one country after the other.”
The tape said those countries had taken part in occupying Afghanistan or Iraq or Chechnya and had given Israel “means of survival.”
South Korea issues alert
South Korea put its security forces on alert after release of the tape.
Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, who heads the National Security Council that oversees all security portfolios — including intelligence, defense and foreign affairs —c onvened an emergency meeting on Saturday, Yonhap news agency said.
Security was stepped up at airports, ports, government buildings and other key sites at home and abroad, it said. Other media had similar reports.
Officials were not immediately available for comment.
Three South Korean civilians have been killed in Iraq in the past year, one of them an Arabic interpreter and devout Christian with missionary aspirations who was beheaded by Islamic militants in June.
The militants who killed interpreter Kim Sun-il had demanded that South Korea withdraw its 600 troops from Iraq and cancel plans to send 3,000 more soldiers.
Those extra troops have now been deployed, and on Friday they assumed military responsibility for northeast Iraq at a ceremony in the Kurdish capital Arbil.
An Al-Jazeera producer said the tape was “supposedly received today,” by the usual means, which he refused to discuss. The station broadcast almost four minutes in two clips of a longer recording, and, as usual, was not planning to air the full tape.
Station officials would not comment on the unaired segments.