Al-Qaida’s No 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, condemned UN peacekeepers in Lebanon as enemies of Islam and warned the terror group would strike the Persian Gulf and Israel, suggesting new fronts in its war against the West in a video today marking the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Al-Zawahri urged his followers to attack Western targets he accused of stealing oil from Muslim countries.
“There must be a focus on their economic interests and in particular, on stopping the theft of the Muslim plundered petrol,” he said.
Al-Qaida released a string of videos for the anniversary, showing increasingly sophisticated techniques as it tried to demonstrate that it remained a powerful, confident force five years into the US’s war on terror.
One video showed images of the planes striking the World Trade Centre, lionising the 19 suicide hijackers as men “who changed history”.
Another was a 91-minute documentary-style video in which Osama bin Laden is seen smiling and chatting with the planners of the 9/11 attacks in an Afghan mountain camp.
Al-Zawahri spoke in the third, longest video, warning Americans more attacks were to come.
“We have repeatedly warned you and offered a truce with you. Now we have all the legal and rational justification to continue to fight you until your power is destroyed or you give in and surrender,” he said. “The days are pregnant and giving birth to new events.”
His comments pointed to new fronts for al -Qaida attacks. The terror network has had few operations in Lebanon, Israel or in the Gulf region – except for in Saudi Arabia, where its branch carried out a campaign of violence in recent years but has been heavily damaged by a government crackdown.
But both Lebanon and Israel have warned of a possible growing al Qaida presence.
“We have seen over the last months increased Al Qaida activity in our area” in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.
“We’ve seen an attempt by al Qaida to also infiltrate in Gaza and even in the West Bank, so we take the threat very seriously and we’re taking the appropriate countermeasures,” he said, without elaborating.
Addressing the US, al-Zawahri said “you should not waste your time” reinforcing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, “because they are doomed to defeat”.
“Instead, you have to reinforce your troops in two regions. First is the Gulf, where you will be thrown out after you are defeated in Iraq, at which point your economic ruin will be achieved,” he said. “The second is Israel, because the jihad reinforcements are getting closer to it.”
He also denounced the UN peacekeeping force now moving into Lebanon under terms set out in a UN ceasefire resolution that on August 14 ended fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas. He suggested Muslims should act to prevent the peacekeepers’ deployment.
“What is so terrible in this resolution ... is that it approves the existence of the Jewish state and isolates our mujahedeen in Palestine from Muslims in Lebanon,” he said. ”This is consecrated by the presence of international troops who are hostile to Islam.”
“Anyone who accepts this resolution means that he accepts all these catastrophes,” he said.
Egyptian-born Al-Zawahri called on the Muslim world “to rush with everything at its disposal to the aid of its Muslim brothers in Lebanon and Gaza” and accused Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The comments on Lebanon – which indicated the video was recent – were the first indirect threat against the French-led force deploying there, tasked with enforcing a border zone free of Hezbollah weapons.
But it is not clear al Qaida has the means to carry out significant attacks in Lebanon. The Sunni-led al-Qaida and Shiite Hezbollah are considered enemies. Al Qaida in Iraq claimed that on December 27 it fired rockets from Lebanon into northern Israel, provoking Israeli airstrikes on a Palestinian base in central Lebanon – angering the Shiite guerrillas.
Bin Laden and al-Zawahri are believed to be on the run in the Afghan-Pakistan border region. Many analysts believe they no longer have centralised control to order or organise attacks by militants around the world. The capture and killing of many mid-level commanders has left the organisation more diffuse and amorphous.
But at the same time, the central leadership’s propaganda machine has gotten more sophisticated, aiming to rally militants and romanticising the jihad, or holy war, against the US as a heroic fight.
In the al-Zawahri tape, the top bin Laden deputy called on his followers to attack the US in response to its jailing of a prominent Muslim cleric.
“I call on every Muslim to make use of every opportunity afforded him to take revenge on America for its imprisonment of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman,” al-Zawahri said.
Abdel-Rahman, a blind cleric from Egypt, was convicted of seditious conspiracy for his advisory role in a plot to blow up five New York City landmarks, including the United Nations in 1995.
Al-Zawahri also called on Iraq’s Kurds to renounce America and Israel.
“I appeal to my brothers in Islam, the Kurds, to renounce these calls which support America and Israel, and to write an honourable page in the contemporary history of Islam,” he said.
The first section of the video contained short clips – highlights of the longer interview that followed. All the footage was stamped with the emblem of As-Sahab, al-Qaida’s media arm.
A 90-minute documentary-style video, titled “Knowledge is For Acting Upon: The Manhattan Raid,” showed bin Laden meeting two top planners of the September 11 attacks – Mohammed Atef and Ramzi Binalshibh – in a mountain camp in Afghanistan.
It was unclear when the tape was made, or how soon before the September 11 attacks the footage of bin Laden was recorded. Atef, also known as Abu Hafs al-Masri, was killed by a US airstrike on Afghanistan in 2001. Binalshibh was captured four years ago in Pakistan and is facing a possible military trial by the US.
Bin Laden, in a dark robe and white headdress, was seen in the video smiling and greeting his followers as an unidentified narrator says, “Planning for September 11 did not take place behind computer monitors or radar screens, nor inside military command and control centres”.
Instead, it “was surrounded with divine protection in an atmosphere brimming with brotherliness ... and love for sacrificing life,” said the narrator.
The video, which had English subtitles, showed video clips of US Vice President Dick Cheney defending his old job at the oil company Halliburton, and US President George Bush at his inauguration. It also included the last testament of two of the September 11 hijackers, Wail al-Shehri and Hamza al-Ghamdi.
The other video, titled “Rare Footage of the Manhattan Raid,” showed footage of the Twin Towers crumbling as martial music played. Pictures of each of the hijackers were shown before a heavenly blue sky.