Bin Laden expects long conflict
Comment: Just as aproval ratings dip to a new low, administration stalwarts like Rumsfeld and Cheney are being hounded, and anti-war sentiment reaches new heights in the US, the old "enemy" rears his head again. Why is it that Bin Laden's appearances only ever help the NeoCons?
BERLIN - Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden urged his followers to prepare for a drawn-out conflict with the Western world in a new audiotape broadcast Sunday, blaming what he called "a Crusader-Zionist war" for a long list of attacks on Islam in places from Darfur to Denmark.
"Your aircraft and tanks are destroying houses over the heads of our kinfolk and children in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Pakistan. Meanwhile, you smile in our faces, saying: We are not hostile to Islam; we are hostile to terrorists," bin Laden said, according to excerpts of the audiotape attributed to him and broadcast by the al Jazeera network.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said U.S. intelligence officials believe the tape is authentic.
It was the first time bin Laden had been heard from since Jan. 19, when he offered "a long-term truce" if the United States and its allies withdrew their forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Before that, the 49-year-old Saudi had been silent for more than a year. His face has not been seen since he appeared in a video recording a few days before the 2004 U.S. presidential election.
Intelligence sources say bin Laden is hiding in a remote tribal area along Afghanistan's 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, separated from his top deputy, and in a sign he has to be careful about whom he trusts, surrounded by fellow Arabs.
His No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, is hiding in a more settled area along the border, surrounded by al-Qaida operatives of his Egyptian nationality, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
Their separation has opened a debate in national security circles in the United States and elsewhere about whether the leaders have split up. Neither man mentions the other by name in public pronouncements, and both headed separate groups before joining forces in 1998.
U.S. and Saudi officials, several of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of the information's sensitive nature, say the al-Qaida leaders have made a strategic security decision to hide in different places from one another. These officials do not yet see evidence of an ideological split.
In his most recent remarks, bin Laden complained about ongoing Western interference in shattered Muslim regions around the world.
He urged jihadists to go to the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan to fight international peacekeepers, saying their real mission was "to occupy the region and steal its oil under the cover of maintaining security there," according to a translation of the audiotape by the BBC.
The United States and other Western countries are supporting a plan to send U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur, where an Arab militia backed by the Sudanese government is fighting rebel groups. Both sides are Muslim. Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict, and 2 million have been displaced from their homes.
Bin Laden cited decisions by the United States and European nations to cut off aid to Palestinians after the recent legislative victory by the militant group Hamas as evidence of a Christian-Jewish conspiracy against Muslims.
Meanwhile, Hamas distanced itself Sunday from the taped comments and al-Qaida, as it has in the past, saying its struggle is only against Israeli and does not fit into the worldwide radical Islamic movement.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the group's ideology is vastly different from al-Qaida's but noted that international sanctions on the Hamas-led government would naturally anger some Muslims.
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