NICOSIA (AFP) – Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri lashed out at US President Barack Obama Tuesday on the eve of his visit to the Middle East, urging Egyptians to shun him.
Zawahiri, who is himself an Egyptian, portrayed Obama’s June 4 visit to Cairo as being at the invitation of the “torturers of Egypt” and the “slaves of America.”
“His bloody messages were received and are still being received by Muslims, and they will not be concealed by public relations campaigns or by farcical visits or elegant words,” Zawahiri said.
The audio recording of Zawahiri’s speech was embedded in a comparatively brief 11 minute, 40 second video produced by As Sahab Media, Al-Qaeda’s propaganda arm, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. It was posted on jihadist web forums.
In it, he urges Egyptians to shun Obama — “that criminal who came seeking, with deception, to obtain what he failed to achieve on the ground after the mujahideen ruined the project of the Crusader America in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.”
Obama departs Tuesday on what is certain to be a closely followed bid to reach out to the Muslim world and mend relations that have been marred by the polarizing US-led wars of the past eight years.
He will fly first to Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah, who has been trying to relaunch a 2002 Arab-backed regional peace initiative.
Then, he will go on to Cairo where he will speak to the Muslim world in an address at an Egyptian university.
“No one speech is going to solve every problem,” Obama said in an interview with the BBC. But he said his trip was “an opportunity for us to get both sides to listen to each other a little bit more and then hopefully learn something.”
Obama said that in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Washington had sometimes not been “careful to distinguish our very real need to hunt down extremists … and broader policy differences or cultural differences that exist.”
“There are misapprehensions on the part of the West about the Muslim world, and obviously there’s some big misapprehensions about the Muslim world when it comes to those of us in the West,” he added.
Since taking office, Obama has moved to reverse a number of controversial policies that have antagonized Muslims.
He has vowed to close the US “war on terror” prison at Guantanamo and banned the harsh interrogations techniques that the CIA had used on “high value” prisoners.
But there has been no let up on US missile attacks on suspected Al-Qaeda hideouts in the Pakistani tribal areas that border Afghanistan.
The Washington Post reported on Monday that about half of top 20 US-designated Al-Qaeda or extremist targets have been eliminated in missile attacks launched by drones since last fall.
The report said the Obama administration has maintained a pace of four or five such attacks a month, which have fueled anti-American sentiment in Pakistan but also kept Al-Qaeda on edge.
“They’ve suffered some serious losses and seem to be feeling a heightened sense of anxiety — and that’s not a bad thing at all,” a senior US counter-terrorism official was quoted as saying.