Bin Laden Urges Pakistanis to Expel President

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 21, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sept. 20 -- Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden took direct aim at the faltering Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in a recording released Thursday that could portend greater instability for the nation at a time when it is already experiencing deep political turmoil.

Bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding in Pakistan's remote tribal regions, was unusually single-minded in the 23-minute recording. He focused his wrath almost exclusively on the U.S.-allied general and called on Pakistanis to rise up in revolt.

"I tell Pervez and his army: Your betrayal of your nation and people has been exposed," bin Laden said, adding later that it was the duty of Pakistan's Muslims to "carry out jihad and fighting to remove Pervez, his government, his army and those who help him."

The message from bin Laden was his third this month, and it followed by a day the release of a recording from al-Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri that also threatened Musharraf. U.S. intelligence officials continued to study the most recent tapes but said they appeared to be authentic.

The tapes seemed to underline Pakistan's evolving status as a prime target for al-Qaeda, in addition to being the organization's operational base. The country's military, led by Musharraf, has long had links to radical Islamic organizations but is now seen as the enemy by those groups because of the president's U.S. ties.

With moderate Pakistanis pushing him for a return to democracy, Musharraf has become increasingly isolated and is now struggling for political survival. Meanwhile, his military is reeling from punishing losses inflicted by insurgents in attacks across the northwest of this predominantly Muslim country.

More than 200 troops who were taken hostage by the Taliban late last month are still being held. More are kidnapped almost daily, with mutilated, uniformed bodies later dumped along roadsides. Last week, a suicide bomber penetrated one of the most heavily fortified military installations in the country, killing 15 elite commandos. The week before that, a bomber left 18 dead when he detonated explosives on a bus carrying workers from the nation's powerful spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence.

Two peace deals between the Pakistani government and locals in the Waziristan tribal areas collapsed this summer. Since then, the military has been casting about for a new strategy to fight an increasingly unpopular battle against extremists.

On Thursday, a senior Bush administration official was dismissive of the threat against Musharraf and expressed continued U.S. support for the man still widely regarded as a critical ally in the war against terrorism.

"He can threaten whoever he wants," Tom Casey, the State Department's deputy spokesman, said of bin Laden. "We're going to continue to work with Pakistan, as well as our other friends and allies throughout the world, to confront him and make sure that we keep ourselves and our friends safe from attack from him and those like him."

Musharraf, who has survived several assassination attempts linked to al-Qaeda, has lately been distracted by his political problems. The government announced Thursday that presidential elections will be held Oct. 6. But with just over two weeks to go, much about the election, and about Musharraf's future, remains in doubt.

The president is believed to have the votes he needs in the parliament and provincial assemblies to win a new five-year term. But the Supreme Court could rule him ineligible, with opposition lawyers arguing that Musharraf's other job as army chief disqualifies him.

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