Al-Qaeda Leader Uses Slur Against Obama in Web Video

President-elect Barack Obama pauses during his meeting with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., not shown, Monday, Nov. 17, 2008, at his transition office in downtown Chicago. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President-elect Barack Obama pauses during his meeting with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., not shown, Monday, Nov. 17, 2008, at his transition office in downtown Chicago. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais - AP)

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By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 20, 2008

BERLIN, Nov. 19 -- Al-Qaeda delivered a harsh, personal message to President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday, tagging him with a racial slur in an attempt to undercut his political appeal in parts of the world where the network has recently tried to expand.

In a videotape posted on the Internet, al-Qaeda's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, describes Obama as subservient to whites and suggests that the president-elect has forsaken his father's Muslim heritage to become a stooge for Israel.

"You have reached the position of president, and a heavy legacy of failure and crimes awaits you," says Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician who serves as al-Qaeda's second in command under Osama bin Laden. "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."

In the 11-minute video, Zawahiri unfavorably compares the first black U.S. president-elect to Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam leader who was assassinated 43 years ago. Zawahiri says Obama, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her predecessor, Colin L. Powell, all "confirmed" Malcolm X's definition of a "house Negro," a derogatory term used to describe black leaders who cater to white interests.

Analysts said Zawahiri's use of such racially charged language was risky and could backfire. They noted that while al-Qaeda has tried to appeal to Muslims of all races and nationalities, its leadership has always been dominated by Arabs and followers with darker skin have found themselves marginalized.

"Al-Qaeda is not a model of racial harmony, and it's never been one," said M.J. Gohel, chief executive of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a London research group. "It's led by a small coterie of Arab Muslims, in particular Egyptians. The rest have been treated as second-class citizens, people to whom orders are given."

For instance, analysts said al-Qaeda's leadership has been conspicuously silent about racial problems in Sudan, including widely reported discrimination by Arabs against black Muslims. They said bin Laden in particular has overlooked such problems in part because he was based in Sudan in the 1990s and friendly with its Arab rulers at the time.

The video released Wednesday consists of an audio recording of Zawahiri's remarks in Arabic, with English subtitles scrolling underneath a still photo of the bespectacled doctor, dressed in white in front of a bookcase. In one segment, he is flanked by a photograph of Obama and one of Malcolm X; Obama is shown wearing a skullcap during a meeting with Jewish leaders, while Malcolm X is on his knees, praying in a mosque.

It is at least the second time Zawahiri has invoked Malcolm X in an attempt to appeal to black Americans. In a videotaped interview posted online in May 2007, Zawahiri repeatedly praised the Nation of Islam leader and quoted him as justifying the use of violence to resist oppression.

In that recording, Zawahiri included video clips of Malcolm X disparaging other black leaders as "house slaves." Foreshadowing his later attack on Obama, Zawahiri again used the term to refer to Powell and Rice.

"I am hurt when I find a black American fighting the Muslims under the American flag," Zawahiri said, according to a transcript of the 2007 interview made by the SITE Institute, a research firm that tracks al-Qaeda statements. "I hope no one replies to me by saying that blacks in America have been delivered from its tyranny because there are the likes of Colin Powell -- the liar of the Security Council -- and Condoleezza Rice in power."

Evan F. Kohlmann, a terrorism expert and senior investigator for the Nine/Eleven Finding Answers Foundation, said al-Qaeda was trying to put a dent in Obama's popularity in the developing world, particularly in African countries where al-Qaeda has tried to establish a beachhead, such as Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Mauritania.


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