Al Qaeda No. 2 tells Muslims in Lebanon, ‘We will stand with you’
DOHA, Qatar (CNN) — With a poster of the burning World Trade Center behind him, Osama bin Laden‘s top lieutenant appeared on tape Thursday calling on Muslims to join the fight against Israel and “rise up seeking martyrdom and attack the crusaders and Zionists.”
The video of Ayman al-Zawahiri aired on Al-Jazeera.
He likened the battles in Lebanon and Gaza to al Qaeda’s battle against the West and called on Muslims to wage “jihad in the name of God.” He did not specifically mention Hezbollah, which is battling Israel in southern Lebanon, or Hamas, which is embroiled in fighting in Gaza.
“The al Qaeda organization will not stay silent regarding what the Muslims in Palestine and Lebanon are facing,” al-Zawahiri said.
Hezbollah and al Qaeda have long been wary of one another. But on the tape al-Zawahiri tells the Muslims in Lebanon and Palestinian territories, “Stand with us and we will stand with you.”
Nowhere is safe from al Qaeda attacks, he warned, saying that “the whole world is an open field for us.”
“As they attack us everywhere, we will attack them everywhere. They gang up to wage war on us; our (Islamic) nation will fight them and wage war on them,” al-Zawahiri said.
He said that the Israeli rockets that “are tearing up Muslims’ bodies in Gaza and Lebanon” are paid for by the “crusader’s alliance,” referring to U.S. support for Israel.
He added, “Everyone who participated in this crime must pay the price, and we will not stand by watching these explosives pouring down on our brothers in Gaza and Lebanon while we stand in silence and do nothing.”
Hamas and Hezbollah became targets of Israel after the groups’ guerillas captured Israeli soldiers in separate cross-border raids. Israeli airstrikes and artillery have been hammering Gaza and Lebanon in what Israel says is an attempt to retrieve its soldiers and neutralize both group’s militants.
In Thursday’s tape, Al-Zawahiri questioned whether the punishment fit the crime.
“The dangerous events going on in Gaza and Lebanon are proof to any sane person that the crusader-Zionist war is targeting us. No one budged for 10,000 prisoners in Israeli jails. However, the whole world went up in arms for three Israeli prisoners,” he said.
Al-Zawahiri further called for “jihad to liberate Palestine, all of Palestine, and liberate all the lands that used to be Muslim from Spain to Iraq.”
Alongside the World Trade Center poster were three other images: one of Mohammed Atef, also known as Abu Hafs al-Masri, who was killed in 2001 during a U.S. missile strike in Afghanistan; one of 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta wearing beard; and one that couldn’t be fully seen because al-Zawahiri was standing in front of it.
The new videotape is a rallying cry designed to lure recruits and generate controversy, according to U.S. intelligence officials, one of whom said al-Zawahiri was seizing a “target of opportunity” by lambasting the conflicts in the Middle East at a time when many in the region question U.S. support for Israel.
Al-Zawahiri’s also released a video last month after the death of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
CNN’s Henry Schuster, Justine Redman and Pam Benson contributed to this report.