By Guy Dinmore in Washington
Updated: 3:42 p.m. ET April 23, 2006
Osama bin Laden, the fugitive leader of al-Qaeda, has warned the west against sending UN forces to Darfur in Sudan while also criticising the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who gave him sanctuary in the early 1990s.
In an audiotape broadcast on Sunday by al Jazeera, the Arabic satellite television network, Mr bin Laden addressed his supporters for the first time since January when he had threatened another attack on the mainland and offered conditions for a truce based on US troop withdrawals.
In this latest tape, Mr bin Laden notes that his offer had been rejected. He warns civilians that they share responsibility for what he calls "the Crusader-Zionist war against Muslims".
He cited Western efforts to isolate the Palestinian Authority since the Islamist group Hamas won January elections as further evidence of this alleged anti-Muslim campaign. Hamas reacted by saying that its ideology "is totally different from the ideology of shiekh Bin Laden".
US intelligence officials were examining the latest broadcast. Analysts in Washington did not doubt its authenticity.
The al-Qaeda leader accused the west of seeking to carve up Sudan and exploit its oil resources. He condemned the US-brokered peace deal that would give rebels in the south the opportunity to secede after a six-year power-sharing experiment. He also accused the west of fomenting strife in the western region of Darfur and called on the "mujahideen" to prepare for long-term war against the "Crusaders" there.
The western powers are seeking a UN resolution that would send an international peacekeeping force to Darfur to bolster outnumbered and under-equipped troops of the African Union. The US has accused Khartoum of responsibility for genocide in Darfur.
Mr bin Laden, who was given refuge in Sudan in the early 1990s before setting up base in Afghanistan, made clear that this war would not be in defence of the Khartoum government with which he said he had great differences, including its lax implementation of Islamic Sharia law.
Peter Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who chairs the House intelligence committee, said the tape was part of a very sophisticated communications effort by al-Qaeda which "recognises that much of this war, this battle that we're fighting, is about winning the hearts and the minds of moderate Islam, and they are focused on that".
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