New bin Laden audiotape focuses on Hamas
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Apr 25, 2006 - 2:52:00 AM
CAIRO, Egypt - Osama bin Laden issued new threats in an audiotape broadcast on Arab television yesterday and accused the United States and Europe of supporting a "Zionist" war on Islam by cutting off funds to the Hamas-led Palestinian government.
He also urged followers to go to Sudan, his former base, to fight a proposed U.N. peacekeeping force.
His words, the first new message by the al-Qaeda leader in three months, seemed designed to justify potential attacks on civilians - something al-Qaeda has been criticized for even by some of its Arab supporters.
He also appeared to be trying to drum up support among Arabs by accusing the West of targeting Hamas, an armed group that fights against Israel and now heads the Palestinian government.
Citing the West's decision to cut off aid to the Hamas-led government because it refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel, bin Laden said the United States and Europe were waging war on Islam.
"The blockade which the West is imposing on the government of Hamas proves that there is a Zionist, crusaders' war on Islam," bin Laden said.
President Bush was told about the tape yesterday morning. The intelligence community has told the administration it believes the tape is authentic, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
"The al-Qaeda leadership is on the run and under a lot of pressure," McClellan said at a Marine base in Twentynine Palms, Calif., where Bush was having lunch with military families. "We are on the advance. They are on the run."
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri was quick to distance the group from bin Laden, declaring that "the ideology of Hamas is totally different from the ideology of Sheikh bin Laden."
The groups do, however, share an anti-Israel stance that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.
Israeli government spokesman Raanan Gissin said it appeared bin Laden had decided to issue the verbal assault to deflect growing Arab animosity toward al-Qaeda. That criticism peaked in December when the leader of the al-Qaeda in Iraq group, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for bombings at Jordanian hotels that killed many Arabs.
The voice on the tape sounded strong and resembled that on other recordings attributed to bin Laden, but its authenticity could not be verified independently.
Al-Jazeera television appeared to have had the tape long enough to make significant edits, with its news reader providing background comments. The network broadcast about five minutes of the tape.
Bob Ayers, a security expert with the Chatham House think tank in London, said the tape might be bin Laden's way of playing cat-and-mouse with those hunting him. The al-Qaeda leader is believed to be hiding in the rugged mountains that divide Pakistan from Afghanistan.
"It's when people have kind of forgotten about him, when he's not been on the news, that the tapes emerge," Ayers said. "It's kind of his way of thumbing his nose at the U.S. and saying, 'Hey, I'm still out here, and you haven't caught me and you can't.' That's what he's saying."
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