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al-Qaeda No. 2 accuses US in audiotape
Updated: 2004-06-12 23:26

A new audiotape believed to be from al-Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri alleges that a U.S. plan for reform in the Middle East is really a bid to replace Arab leaders. The tape was broadcast Friday on the Arab satellite station Al-Arabiya.

The comments appeared to be in response to an agreement this week by the Group of Eight industrialized nations on a U.S. plan to promote democratic change in the Middle East.

"America has no relation with reform. What it is really looking for is to replace the existing regimes with new ones," said the voice on the tape. "The so-called American reforms will not bring to us our independence or our dignity."

"As for the human rights they are talking about, they mean the human rights of criminals (to) humiliate the Muslim human being," the voice said.

Muslims and Arabs have recently been outraged by revelations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers, including forcing them to denounce Islam or perform acts forbidden within their religion, including eating pork, drinking liquor or masturbation.

The tape said real reform must come from within the Arab people. "It starts by implanting the will to resist, in our souls and the souls of our children and the next generations," said the voice on the tape.

Editor-in-Chief Salah Negm refused to say how Al-Arabiya received the 10-minute audiotape. The station played about two minutes of the tape and said it would not broadcast more.

The CIA and other intelligence agencies are analyzing the tape to determine if it is al-Zawahri, said a U.S. official in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The last tape believed to be from al-Zawahri, broadcast on Al-Jazeera satellite network on March 25, urged Pakistanis to overthrow President Pervez Musharraf. The CIA said that tape was probably authentic.

Middle East reforms have been a dominant topic in the region in recent months, climaxing this week with the G-8 agreement.

Most Arab countries were cool to the proposal, insisting that reforms must come from within and not be imposed by the West. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the powerhouses of the region, strongly objected to outside reforms and chose not to attend the G-8 summit.

Al-Zawahri and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden are believed hiding in the craggy mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan. A dragnet involving thousands of troops has been hunting for them, as well as Taliban leader Mullah Omar and renegade Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

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