By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 30, 2006
Osama bin Laden praised slain al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an audiotape released yesterday as a "brave knight" and a "lion of jihad" whose small band of fighters had humiliated the United States and the Iraqis who fought against him.
The tape's imminent posting on a jihadist Web site was heralded for 24 hours before it appeared late last night, and is the fourth bin Laden has produced this year. A U.S. counterterrorism official said experts were still analyzing the voice on the tape, but that "there's no reason to doubt that it's real."
Officials portrayed the tape, as they have bin Laden's previous productions, as an attempt by the al-Qaeda leader to appear relevant and in touch with current events. Although his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, appeared in a videotape last week discussing Zarqawi's death, bin Laden had not commented on it.
The 19-minute tape played while a split screen showed a static photograph of bin Laden and a panel featuring footage of a video speech delivered by Zarqawi shortly before he was killed by U.S. troops north of Baghdad early this month.
Yesterday's audiotape demonstrates both the increasing sophistication of al-Qaeda's propaganda and an aggressive marketing effort to portray bin Laden as in the forefront of the news and the leader of a viable worldwide movement connecting widespread Islamic struggles.
"The flag did not fall" with Zarqawi's death, bin Laden said, "but was transferred from one lion to another Islamic lion," in the form of new leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Addressing President Bush, he said that "we will continue, God willing, fighting you and your allies everywhere in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan, until we exhaust your resources, and kill your men and [you] go back defeated."
A translation of the tape was provided by the SITE Institute, a Washington-based organization that monitors jihadist Internet sites.
Much of the tape was in praise of the Jordanian-born Zarqawi, who as the head of a major faction of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq had frequent differences with the al-Qaeda leadership. The United States last fall released a letter it said had been intercepted en route from Zawahiri to Zarqawi, in which the al-Qaeda second in command criticized the brutality of Zarqawi's tactics -- including attacks against Shiite Muslim religious sites and videotaped beheading of hostages -- as likely to alienate Iraqis.
Bin Laden, however, has apparently decided to claim Zarqawi in death as a major martyr for al-Qaeda. God, he said, had "opened the path for [Zarqawi] to establish a base to defend the religion and to regain Palestine. . . . He took revenge on the wicked people [in Iraq], where he hurt the Americans, the allies of the Jewish people, and made them dizzy. He killed their men and destroyed their buildings, and exploited resources and dispersed them and humiliated them so everybody could hurt them."
Although acknowledging that Zarqawi was "accused" of "killing some of the Iraqi people," bin Laden implied that many of the charges were U.S. propaganda. But he said anyone "who wanted to stand in the Crusaders' trench against Muslims" deserves to be killed "regardless of his faith or tribe."