Osama tape slams ‘crusade’

In the tape, broadcast by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television, the Al-Qaeda leader also called on Muslim fighters to go to Sudan to wage war against “crusader thieves.”

He slammed the Darfur conflict and the international isolation of the Hamas-led Palestinian government as proof of a “war by crusaders and Zionists against Islam.”

It was the first purported recording by the Western world’s most wanted man in three months. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the tape had been assessed as authentic by intelligence agencies.

US reaction

The American Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, warned the man behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States could not be taken lightly despite his years on the run.

“I believe we need to take him seriously,” the US envoy said in an interview with CNN, adding that bin Laden was vying to show through the tape that “he’s still a player”.

Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee, blamed the US military involvement in Iraq for having “bogged down” American troops and other US resources, diverting attention from capturing bin Laden.

“The tape reminds us that four years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden is still at large, the subject of the largest manhunt in history, and we haven’t been able to find him,” said Ms Harman, speaking on Fox television.

Prolonged war

The new recording called upon Muslim fighters to prepare for a prolonged war in Darfur, Bin Laden’s first recent reference to the Sudan, his base before he was expelled from the country in 1996 and fled to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

“I call upon the Mujahedeen (holy warriors) and their supporters in Sudan and its surroundings… including the Arabian Peninsula …to prepare to lead a prolonged war against the crusader robbers in western Sudan,” the tape said.

“Our aim is clear, which is to defend Islam, as well as its land and people, and not to defend the government of Khartoum, even if we share common interests,” the voice said, in reference to the Islamist government that has been in power since a 1989 coup.

However the Sudanese foreign ministry was quick to distance itself from the Bin Laden tape recording.

“Sudan has nothing to do with such statements,” ministry spokesman Jamal Mohammed Ibrahim told AFP. Darfur is an “internal problem that we are trying to resolve under the auspices of the African Union.”

Hamas also sought to distance itself from the Bin Laden recording. “What Osama bin Laden said is his opinion but Hamas has its own positions which are different to the ones expressed by Bin Laden,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.

Abu Zuri added Hamas was “very keen to have good relations with the West” and blamed current tensions on the international community’s refusal to deal with Hamas unless it recognises Israel and renounces violence.

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