Al-Qaida’s No. 2 made the terrorist group’s first direct claim of responsibility for the July 7 bombings in London in a tape broadcast Thursday that also included a farewell warning to the West from a man identified as one of the four suicide attackers.
Speaking English, the bomber identified as Mohammad Sidique Khan said he had forsaken “everything for what we believe” and went on to accuse Western civilians of being directly responsible for the terrorist attacks that befall them.
“Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate injustice against my people all over the world, and your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters,” said Khan, wearing a red-and-white checked keffiyeh and a dark jacket and apparently sitting against a wall lined with an ornate carpet.
‘You will be our targets’
Khan said he was inspired by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden; al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri, who also appeared on the tape; and by the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi.
“Until we feel security, you will be our targets,” he said. “Until you will stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight.”
In his portion of the tape, al-Zawahri did not say outright that his group carried out the bombings on the London transport system that killed 52 people and the four attackers. But he said the attacks were a direct response to Britain’s foreign policies and its rejection of a truce that al-Qaida offered Europe in April 2004.
Khan and al-Zawahri did not appear together in the tape, but shots of each were edited together. While their appearance together in an edited tape appeared to show some level of coordination, it would have been more significant had they appeared together in one portion — indicating that al-Zawahri was a hands-on commander who met directly with an attacker.
U.S. officials express doubt
Two U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the message’s sensitive nature, said that any claim of responsibility did not necessarily indicate that al-Qaida planned or directed the attack.
The officials said al-Qaida would regard the London bombings as a victory whether they were directly involved in them or not.
In the video, al-Zawahri threatened the West with “more catastrophes” in retaliation for the policies of President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
“I talk to you today about the blessed London battle, which came as a slap to the face of the tyrannical, crusader British arrogance,” said al-Zawahri, who appeared in a black turban and white robes with an automatic weapon leaning against the wall beside him. “It’s a sip from the glass that the Muslims have been drinking from.”
Al-Zawahri and bin Laden are both thought to be hiding along the rugged Afghan-Pakistani border.
Bomber reportedly went to Pakistan
Khan, a 30-year-old resident of the English city of Leeds, reportedly traveled to Pakistan before he died in the bombing of the London Underground train near Edgware Road.
He spoke with a heavy Yorkshire accent in the tape, which showed him sporting a trimmed beard. The image resembled photos of him published after the deadly attacks.
In London, a police spokeswoman said authorities would consider the tape “as part of our ongoing investigation.”
Blair’s office refused to comment.
After the March 2004 train bombings that killed 191 people in Madrid, bin Laden was reported to have offered European countries a three-month cease-fire to consider his demands to withdraw their troops from Muslim countries. Effectively it meant that European forces should leave Afghanistan and Iraq.
In the weeks immediately after the July 7 London attacks, there were at least two purported claims of responsibility on Islamic Web sites. But both were from groups who have made dubious claims in the past.
In a tape aired Aug. 4, al-Zawahri did not directly claim that al-Qaida carried out the July 7 bombings or the failed July 21 attacks that followed. But he brought the earlier attacks under al-Qaida’s wing and depicted the terror network as still capable of delivering strikes around the world despite arrests in Europe and blows against its leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan.