DUBAI, (Reuters) – Osama bin Laden praised the slain leader of Iraq’s al Qaeda wing, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and vowed al Qaeda will continue to fight U.S. forces and their allies “everywhere”, according to an Internet audiotape on Friday.
“The lion of jihad … Abu Musab al-Zarqawi … was killed in a U.S. raid. We hope to God he accepts him as a martyr,” said the speaker who sounded similar to previous recordings attributed to al Qaeda leader bin Laden.
Addressing U.S. President George W. Bush, bin Laden said: “Don’t be too happy, for the banner (of al Qaeda in Iraq) hasn’t dropped but has passed from one lion of Islam to another lion”.
“We will continue, God willing, to fight you and your allies everywhere, in Iraq and Afghanistan and in Somalia and Sudan until we waste all your money and kill your men and you will return to your country in defeat as we defeated you before in Somalia,” he said.
The authenticity of the tape posted on a Web site often used by Al Qaeda could not be immediately verified, but U.S. intelligence officials said they were conducting tests.
“U.S. intelligence is conducting technical analysis on the new tape, but at this point there is no reason to doubt it is real,” said a U.S. counter-terrorism official, noting that it is the fourth tape from bin Laden this year.
Bin Laden also called on U.S. forces to release the body of Jordanian-born Zarqawi to his family and demanded Jordan’s King Abdullah allow Zarqawi’s family to hold a funeral in his home town. Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air strike in Iraq earlier this month.
“You (King Abdullah) prevented Abu Musab from returning to his country alive,” the voice on the recording said. “What scares you about Zarqawi after his death is that (his funeral) will be huge and will show the degree of sympathy Muslims have for the mujahideen.”
Bin Laden also defended Zarqawi’s killing of Iraqis who fought with U.S.-led forces against Muslims.
“Abu Musab had clear instructions to focus his fighting on the occupying forces first of which are Americans … but whoever fought in the trenches of the crusaders against Muslims, then regardless of his faith or his tribe it is (acceptable) that he may be killed by anyone,” he said.
Earlier this month, al Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri vowed vengeance against the United States for the death of Zarqawi, according to a videotape.
Last month, bin Laden released an audiotape saying that Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in a U.S. court for the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities, had nothing to do with the operations.
Bin Laden, considered the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001 suicide hijack attacks in the United States, has eluded U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as have Zawahri and former Taliban chief Mullah Omar.
Al Qaeda in Iraq has vowed to avenge the killing of Zarqawi and named his successor as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.