BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP – Iraqi politicians and citizens on Wednesday condemned terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as a foreigner determined to destroy their country, appearing to take his new video promising more attacks as a serious threat.
Al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born head of al-Qaida in Iraq, made a dramatic and unprecedented appearance on a video Tuesday, dismissing the new Iraqi government as an American “stooge” and a “poisoned dagger” in the heart of the Muslim world. He also warned of more attacks to come.
Sheik Khalid al-Attiyah, the Iraqi parliament’s newly appointed first deputy speaker, said the video shows that al-Zarqawi remains determined “to inflame a civil war” in Iraq. But al-Attiyah said it also indicates the insurgent leader, an outsider to many Iraqis, fears the country’s new government will unify Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
The video — the first released by al-Zarqawi showing his face — was posted on the Internet only days after a breakthrough in Iraq’s political process allowing its Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders to start assembling a government.
“I believe that al-Zarqawi was caught off guard by the new government taking shape because it will be very strong one representing all Iraqis,” al-Attiyah said.
However, Jamal Salman, 40, a minority Sunni Arab who lives in eastern Baghdad, said he believes al-Zarqawi is “very serious” about his threats.
“He was speaking at a time of serious terrorist attacks, not only in Iraq but in other Arab countries such as Egypt,” the Oil Ministry employee said, referring to a suspected terrorist attack Monday in the Egyptian resort town of Dahab that killed 24 people.
The United States government has made no official statement on the video. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived unannounced in Baghdad on Wednesday to shore up the U.S. show of support for the newly emerging Iraqi government, but they made no immediate mention of al-Zarqawi.
The U.S. military in Iraq also said it would have no comment.
A U.S. intelligence official, who declined to be identified in compliance with office policy, said a technical analysis had determined that the voice on the tape was al-Zarqawi’s.
The video came only two days after al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, to whom al-Zarqawi has sworn allegiance, released an audiotape calling on Muslims to resist what he called the West’s war on Islam.
In the video, al-Zarqawi addressed Sunnis in Iraq and across the Arab world, warning that their community was in danger of being caught between “the Crusaders and the evil Rejectionists,” the terms used by radical Sunnis for the Americans and Iraq’s majority Shiites.
The message appeared to be an attempt by al-Zarqawi to rally Iraqis and foreign fighters to his side and show his strength at a time when U.S. and Iraqi officials are touting political progress as a setback to insurgents.
“God almighty has chosen you (Sunnis) to conduct holy war in your lands and has opened the doors of paradise to you … So mujahedeen, don’t dare close those doors,” he said. “They are slaughtering your children and shaming your women.”
Any new government — “whether made up of the hated Shiites or the secular Zionist Kurds or the collaborators imposed on the Sunnis — will be stooges of the Crusaders and will be a poisoned dagger in the heart of the Islamic nation,” he said.
He also addressed President Bush, telling him, “Your dreams will be defeated by our blood and by our bodies. What is coming is even worse.”
Al-Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for some of the bloodiest suicide bombings in Iraq since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein and for the beheadings and killings of at least 10 foreign hostages, including three Americans and a Briton.
Arab television network aired portions of the tape Tuesday at the same time that Iraq’s government-owned TV showed an interview with the new prime minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki, who called for Iraq’s sharply divided Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to unite in a front against terrorism.
“If we can reach unity between all the components of the people, the canals of terrorism will dry up,” al-Maliki said.
Azzat al-Shahabandar, a spokesman for former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, leader of Iraq’s National Accord Party, condemned al-Zarqawi on Wednesday, but also seemed to take his threats seriously.
“Al-Zarqawi is the poisoned dagger in the Islamic world. This dagger will eventually turn and stab al-Zarqawi himself because he is crippled and unable to appear in public,” al-Shahabandar told The Associated Press. He predicted that al-Zarqawi’s bombers would now target civilian establishments such as restaurants and schools.
The video, which al-Zarqawi said was filmed Friday, threw the militant leader back into the public spotlight, after months of taking a lower profile amid criticism of bombings against civilians. It was his first message since January.
He seemed healthy, shown in one scene standing and firing a heavy machine gun in a flat desert landscape that resembled the vast empty stretches of western Iraq, where he is believed to be hiding. He was dressed head-to-toe in black with a black scarf around his head and a beard and mustache.
It was believed to be the first time al-Zarqawi’s group has released a video showing his face, said Ben Venzke, head of IntelCenter, an Alexandria, Va.-based firm that provides counterterrorism intelligence services to the U.S. government.
One or two pictures of al-Zarqawi’s face have circulated on Islamic militant Web sites before, and he appeared in a video of his sister’s wedding in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
U.S. and Iraqi troops hunting al-Zarqawi also have several old photos of him at their checkpoints — some showing him bearded, others showing a younger, softer face. Wanted posters are kept at checkpoints across Iraq — with several photos showing al-Zarqawi at different stages of his life.
Iraqi security forces detained al-Zarqawi in Fallujah in 2004 but released him after a few hours because they did not realize who he was, deputy interior minister Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal said last year.
Al-Zarqawi had taken a low profile in recent months after al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for a Nov. 9 triple bombing in Amman, Jordan, that killed 60 people, most Sunni Arabs.