CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – The purported leader of al-Qaeda’s umbrella in Iraq called in a new posting on a militant Web site on Thursday for attacks on Israel and the liberation of Palestine, proposing that Iraq’s territory be a “launching pad” to seize Jerusalem.
In the 30 minute audiotape, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who heads the Islamic State of Iraq, lashed out at Arab and Palestinian groups, especially the Palestinian Hamas, for failing to liberate Palestine.
He also called on Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Aqsa Brigades, to break away from the group’s political leadership and liberate Jerusalem, or Al-Quds as the city is called in Arabic.
The new posting came as Israeli security instructed embassies and Jewish institutions around the world to go on alert for fear of revenge attacks for a car bomb that killed a top-wanted terrorist, Imad Mughniyeh, late Tuesday in the Syrian capital.
It also came in the wake of concerns expressed this week by the director of U.S. national intelligence that al-Qaeda in Iraq is shifting its focus to attacks elsewhere in the region. Mike McConnell told a U.S. Senate hearing on Tuesday that the terror network “may deploy resources to mount attacks outside” Iraq.
The authenticity of Thursday’s audiotape could not be independently verified, but it was distributed by al-Furqan, one of al-Qaeda’s media production wings and posted on more than one Islamic Web site that usually carry militant statements.
No photo has ever appeared of al-Baghdadi, whom the U.S. describes as a fictitious character used to give an Iraqi face to an organization dominated by foreigners. The U.S. has said that under interrogation, a top al-Qaeda member revealed that al-Baghdadi’s speeches are read by an actor. Al-Baghdadi has often echoed the messages of his patron, Osama bin Laden, who in his last audiotape on Dec. 29, assured Palestinians that al-Qaeda will expand its holy war, or jihad, to Palestine which it intends to liberate. In the latest audiotape, al-Baghdadi also threatened moderate Palestinians, saying that jihad makes “no distinctions between the infidel Jews and the renegade Palestinians … between (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert and his criminals and (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas and his gang.” He called the state of Israel a “wicked germ sown in the (Palestinian) nation’s body which should be uprooted, even if the traitors signed thousands of surrender treaties.”
Much of the audiotape was devoted to threats against Hamas political leaders “who betrayed the nation and turned against the blood of the martyrs,” al-Baghdadi said, also saying that Hamas has been pressuring its military wing not to stage rocket attacks on Israel but to accept a truce. “The sincere sons of al-Aqsa should announce their separation from Hamas movement and impeach its rotten and deviated political leadership,” he said. Al-Baghdadi called for “opening new fronts to ease the American and Jewish pressure off the Palestinians while bolstering the fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan.” He urged every “working Muslim to spare 2 dollars a month, half of it would go to our Palestinian brothers and the other half to finance other fronts.”
As for attacks on Israel, al-Baghdadi said the “Islamic state in Iraq will be the cornerstone for the return of Al-Quds” and added the group was trying to use Iraq’s western province of al-Anbar as a launching pad for missiles against Israel, the same way the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fired 31 missiles against the Jewish state in the Gulf War. “The Jews and the Americans have realized this and tried by all means to prevent us from achieving this target including the fierce campaign on al-Anbar, knowing that it is easy to fire missiles on Israel from some parts there,” al-Baghdadi said.
In the vast western Iraqi province, Sunni groups known as Awakening Councils, last year abandoned their support for al-Qaeda and joined the U.S. push to drive the militants out of al-Anbar, and have been credited with significantly helping turn the tide in the area.