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MIDDLE EAST: Al Qaeda speaks again

April 23, 2008 | 12:29 pm

Al Qaeda struggles to show that it still has its fingers on the pulse of the world, even as it hides out in the rocky mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The latest presumptive audio recording by Al Qaeda's No. 2 seems to suggest that the Islamist organization is striving to stay relevant.

In the extensive two-hour message posted on the Internet Tuesday, Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, particularly lashed out at the Iranians for their ambitions in Iraq and the Arab region, as well as their attempts to discredit the Sunni Islamist group.

He attacked the Iranians for allegedly seeking out the takeover of southern Iraq and Shiite parts of Saudi Arabia.

He warned that if Iran achieves its goals, it will "blow up the situation in an already exploding region."

In answers to hundreds of electronic queries made by Al Qaeda supporters, he tried to exploit the Sunni-Shiite rift in the Middle East. He accused Iran's ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, of launching a propaganda campaign against the group.

According to the Al Qaeda official, Hezbollah's TV station Al-Manar has been propagating the conspiracy theory that Israel was behind the Sept. 11 attacks against the World Trade Center:

The purpose of this lie is clear. [It infers] that there are no heroes among the Sunnis who can hurt America... Iranian media picked up this lie and repeated it... Iran's aim here is also clear, that is to cover up its involvement with America in invading the homes of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Zawahiri also lambasted the Palestinian militant group Hamas, another of Tehran's allies, for allegedly considering future peace treaties with Israel.

One New York-based analyst, Micah Halpern, commented on his website about the competition between Al Qaeda and Iran:

Al Qaeda and Iran hate one another. Zawahiri has spoken time and again about the intentions of Iran to hijack the Muslim agenda and take charge of the Muslim world… Through his audio preachings Zawahiri is promoting the good that Sunni al Qaeda brings to the Muslim word. It is al Qaeda, says Zawahiri, who is fighting against Western evil.

Lebanon featured prominently in Zawahiri's audiotape — the country was branded as a "Muslim frontline fort." The Al Qaeda official delivered a "bad omen" about Lebanon — as one Lebanese politician described his declarations — predicting a "pivotal role" for the country in future battles against Israel and the international peacekeeping troops stationed in the south of the country.

Zawahiri went even beyond his usual political issues by commenting on the deterioration of the world's environment. He blamed global warming on the "greediness" and "brutality" of the Western world with the U.S. on top, adding that this phenomenon "would make the world more sympathetic to and understanding of the Muslims' jihad against the aggressor America."

Raed Rafei in Beirut