Zawahiri says Iraq will become 'fortress of Islam': audio
Fri Apr 18, 10:19 AM ET
Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri urged Muslims to make Iraq a "fortress of Islam" in an audio message marking the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion.
In a nearly 16 minute message posted on the Internet, Zawahiri accused Shiite Iran of seeking to annex southern Iraq and slammed the Egyptian government for "starving" its people as part of a "Zionist-American plan
He called on extremists to fight to create a greater Muslim state after US President George W. Bush had admitted the "failure of the Crusader invasion".
"We will only get our rights back with our own hands and not through beggary or fraudulent elections," he said, according to a summary released by the US-based SITE monitoring service.
The message posted on Islamist militant websites contained a reference to April 8 testimony to the US Congress by the US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus.
"Bush declared that he will give Petraeus all the time he needs ... which allows Bush to escape the decision to withdraw forces. By passing the problem to the next president, Bush is declaring the failure of the Crusader invasion of Iraq," Zawahiri said.
He mocked the US-backed Sunni Arab local groups formed to fight Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
"So where are the Awakening Councils that Petraeus announced six months ago will achieve victory in Iraq? ... Are these Awakening Councils in need of someone to defend them and protect them?" Zawahiri asked.
On Thursday, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd mourning two members of one of the councils, killing at least 51 people in one of the biggest insurgent attacks this year.
"Very soon Iraq will become the fortress of Islam, wherefrom will start missions and brigades for the liberation of Al-Aqsa Mosque" in Jerusalem, said Zawahiri, considered the leading ideologist of the Sunni organisation.
"Iran has clear goals, which is the annexation of southern Iraq and the east of the (Arabian) Peninsula, and to expand in order to be able to communicate with its followers in southern Lebanon," Zawahiri said.
He said a plot against Iraq by the United States and Iran would lead to the Middle East region exploding.
"If an understanding with it (Iran) is reached on the basis of accomplishing all or some of its goals in return for keeping a blind eye on the American hegemony in the area, this understanding will add fuel to the fire ... The situation will explode an already enflamed region," Zawahiri said.
While Zawahiri lambasted Iran, a senior hardline cleric there was trumpeting what he said should be the Shiite country's role in defending Islam.
"In a not so distant future, we should reach a point of having the most powerful military equipment in the world so that no one even think about invading our borders," Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in a Friday prayer sermon.
"And not only that of the Islamic republic, but also the borders of Islam ... We must defend oppressed Muslims everywhere so that the enemies do not dare to attack Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq."
Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant referred to clashes between protesters and police in the Egyptian industrial city of Mahallah earlier this month, implicitly accusing the Egyptian government of conniving with Israel and the United States to keep the Hamas-run Gaza Strip under siege.
"Those who steal the livelihood of the people of Egypt are those who are denying food to the people of Gaza under the pretext of suspect international commitments with the Jews and the Americans," he said.
"In so doing, Israel achieves monopoly over supplies to Gaza to force its people to surrender to their conditions," Zawahiri said in the audio attributed to him.
"Starving the people of Egypt .... is part of a Zionist-American plan."
It was Zawahiri's second audio message this month. On April 2, he launched a blistering attack on the United Nations. He also said that bin Laden, who like him has evaded capture, was still alive.