Osama bin Laden warned Iraq’s Sunni Arabs against joining tribal councils fighting al-Qaida or participating in any unity government in a new audio tape posted on the web today.
Bin Laden also made an unusually sharp threat of attacks against Israel, saying: “I would like to assure our people in Palestine that we will expand our jihad there.”
“We intend to liberate Palestine, the whole of Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the sea,” he said, threatening “blood for blood, destruction for destruction”.
Bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders frequently vow to liberate Jerusalem and Palestine in their messages. But the latest comments were a more direct language than bin Laden usually uses.
Israel has warned of growing al-Qaida activity in Palestinian territory, but the terror network is not believed to have taken a strong direct role there so far.
“We will not recognise even one inch for Jews in the land of Palestine as other Muslim leaders have,” bin Laden said.
Most of the 56-minute tape dealt with Iraq, in the latest attempt by al-Qaida to keep its supporters and other insurgents in Iraq unified behind it at a time when the US military claims to have al-Qaida’s Iraq branch on the run.
A number of Sunni Arab tribes in Iraq’s western Anbar province have formed a coalition fighting al-Qaida-linked insurgents that US officials credit for deeply reducing violence in the province. The US military has been working to form similar “Awakening Councils” in other areas of Iraq.
In the audiotape, bin Laden denounced Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, the former leader of the Anbar Awakening Council, who was killed in a September bombing claimed by al-Qaida.
“The most evil of the traitors are those who trade away their religion for the sake of their mortal life,” bin Laden said.
Bin Laden said US and Iraqi officials are seeking to set up a “national unity government” joining the country’s Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
“Our duty is to foil these dangerous schemes, which try to prevent the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq, which would be a wall of resistance against American schemes to divide Iraq,” he said.
The authenticity of the tape could not be independently confirmed. But the voice resembled that of bin Laden. The tape was posted on an Islamic militant website where al-Qaida’s media arm, Al-Sahab, issues the group’s messages.
The tape was the fifth message released by bin Laden this year, a flurry of activity after he went more than a year without issuing any tapes. The messages began with a September 8 video that showed bin Laden for the first time in nearly three years. The other messages this year have been audiotapes.
In an October tape, bin Laden sought to patch up splits between Iraqi insurgent factions, urging them to unite with the Islamic State of Iraq – the insurgent coalition led by al-Qaida. He took a conciliatory stance, chiding even al-Qaida’s followers for being too “extremist” in their positions toward other insurgents.
Bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahri took a sharper tone in a December 16 video, branding as “traitors” those who work with the anti-Qaida tribal councils and calling for Sunnis to purge anyone co-operating with the Americans.