Bin Laden's deputy: US on brink of defeat
Ayman al-Zawahri, the number two figure in al Qaeda, appeared in a new videotape aired on Al Jazeera on Thursday, ridiculing U.S. forces as stuck in a quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"East and south Afghanistan have become an open arena for the Mujahideen (jihad fighters). The enemy are limited to their capitals," the Egyptian-born Zawahri said.
"The Americans are hiding in their trenches and refuse to come out to face the Mujahideen, as the Mujahideen shell and fire on them, and cut roads off around them. Their defense is only to bomb by air, wasting U.S. money as they kick up dust."
Zawahri, wearing a white turban with a machine gun at his side, spoke to camera for several minutes in the tape, broadcast two days before the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities that Washington blames on Al Qaeda.
Indonesian police have blamed Islamic militants linked to Al Qaeda for a bomb attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta on Thursday that killed at least nine people and wounded 182. A web site carried a statement purporting to be from the group, Jemaah Islamiah, claiming responsibility for the attack.
Turning to Iraq, where U.S. forces are battling an uprising against the U.S.-backed government, Zawahri said insurgents had turned Washington's plans for the oil-rich country upside down.
"In Islamic Iraq the Mujahideen (jihad fighters) have turned America's plan head over heels. The defeat of America in Iraq and Afghanistan has become just a matter of time," he said.
Al Jazeera, an influential Arabic broadcaster, did not say how it obtained the tape.
But it said Zawahri had referred to the Darfur conflict in Sudan, suggesting the video was made in recent months. The al Qaeda leader cited the crisis as an example of U.S. desires to split the Arab and Muslim world, Al Jazeera said.
"CRIMES AGAINST MUSLIMS"
Zawahri looked little different from how he has in previous videotapes.
In March, Al Jazeera aired a recorded message, which the CIA said was likely authentic, calling on Pakistanis to overthrow their U.S.-allied government.
Pakistan, with U.S. military back-up, has been trying to capture bin Laden, Zawahri and other al Qaeda supporters thought to be hiding in the mountainous region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which also has a U.S.-backed government.
"In Kabul, the Americans and peacekeeping forces are hiding from the shells of the Mujahideen and expect martyrdom (suicide) attacks at every moment," Zawahri said in Thursday's tape.
The excerpts appeared to be part of a longer message. Al Jazeera said elsewhere on the tape he announced that "the age of security has passed for Americans, and they will not have security until they stop their crimes against Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine."
A U.S. intelligence official said the Zawahri tape follows a pattern of al Qaeda leaders releasing a tape shortly before the Sept. 11 anniversary since the 2001 attacks.
"It's a message from the al Qaeda leadership that fits the pattern," the official said on condition of anonymity.
One U.S. government source scoffed at Zawahri's comments about Americans "hiding in their trenches."
"These guys are in hiding too and that's what they do is hide and then kill innocent men, women and children," the source said.
Some analysts say video and audio messages from bin Laden and Zawahri may be aimed at triggering attacks by followers.
They point to messages in advance of the Bali disco bombing and Limburg tanker attacks in Yemen in 2002, as well as the Madrid bombing earlier this year.
"In some cases messages may have worked as a trigger for attacks, and the Bali bombing stands out as an example," said Ken Katzman, a terrorism expert at the Congressional Research Service in Washington.