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by Jalal Ghazi

Bin Laden's Latest Message Poses Greatest Threat Yet

(PNS) -- Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shocked many viewers not only by revealing his face on video at a time when many doubted his existence, but also by changing his image from that of a thin, masked terrorist with a long knife to a muscular, machine gun-wielding Rambo. However, when viewed through the lenses of top Arab analysts, Zarqawi's first videotape message, released on the Internet April 25, is a desperate attempt by Al Qaeda to assert its relevancy in Iraq as Sunni resistance groups engage in the political process. Zarqawi

Yaser Abu Helalah, an Al Jazeera correspondent in Amman who made a film about Zarqawi says the videotape is part of a "media war" between Al Qaeda and the United States, and notes that it was "done professionally, using many cameras." The video portrayed the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, who is over 40 years old, "as a young man with an iron will who defies the United States and says that America will be defeated in Iraq," Helalah says.

In the video, Zarqawi sits near his military expert with a laptop. The expert announces the development of two missile systems. One is "Al Qaeda 1," and the other is "Al Quds (Jerusalem) 1."

Zarqawi then warns other armed groups in Iraq not to give up their weapons and be fooled by "misleading plans" aimed at enrolling them in the Iraqi army and police. "Be very careful concerning the gangsters who are trying to pre-empt your jihad in collaboration with the Zionists. Do not ever put your weapons down. If you were to do so, it will be the time of regret, shame, humiliation in earth and after life," he says.

Yaser Al Za'atra, an expert on Islamic groups, told Al Jazeera that this was the most important part of Zarqawi's message. "The American Ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad has been able to achieve significant political steps in minimizing the role of the United Iraqi alliance (the largest Shiite political block), redistributing political positions and engaging Sunni political parties and resistance groups in the political processes, and therefore distancing them from the armed resistance," Za'atra said.

In this context, Za'atra said, "Zarqawi comes to show that he is still relevant."

Abdel Barri Atwan, the editor-and-chief of Al Quds Al Arabi, agrees that the Bush administration is reaching out to Sunni parties and resistance groups. "This (video) comes as the U.S. is trying to look for new allies in its confrontation with Iran," Atwan says. "The U.S. is trying to buy out some Sunni parties by giving them political positions so they will support the U.S. if war with Iran breaks out under the pretext of Iran's nuclear program."

Dr. Dia Rashwan, an expert on Islamic groups, also told Al Arabiya television Zarqawi is "afraid of the political developments in Iraq." Beyond Sunni parties joining the political process, Sunni resistance groups have distanced themselves from Al Qaeda for ideological reasons, Rashwan says, forming the United Leadership of the Mujahideen. In response, Rashwan says, Zarqawi established the Mujahideen Shura Council.

"The Iraqi national and religious resistance groups do not agree with Zarqawi's terrorist operations; they rather want to focus on getting rid of the occupation," Rashwan says.

The hostile position taken by Iraqi Sunnis toward Zarqawi may have humbled him into seeking the guidance of Osama bin Laden, after breaking with the Al Qaeda leader in the past on some issues. In fact, Zarqawi may have deliberately released his video two days after Al Jazeera aired Bin Laden's tape on April 23 to reconfirm his allegiance to the Al Qaeda leader.

"Zarqawi's speech is now more in line with Al Qaeda thinking," says Al Jazeera correspondent in Amman, Yaser Abu Helalah. "Al Zarqawi used political language rather than pure religious concepts, avoided mentioning things that may create divisions, refrained from attacking any particular group by name, and even softened his position toward the Shiites, especially when compared to his previous speeches" in which he declared an absolute war on them.

Helalah sees Zarqawi's choice of military clothes and machine gun as indicative of his renewed closeness to Bin Laden, who dressed in a similar fashion in earlier videos.

Perhaps in response to Al Qaeda's difficulties in Iraq, Bin Laden disclosed in his April 23 tape the opening of a new Al Qaeda front in Sudan, in addition to the military operations already taking place in Somalia, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya and tribal areas in Pakistan.

For the first time, Bin Laden urged Muslims to go to Sudan to fight "the crusaders." He denounced the January 2005 north-south peace accord, saying, "let (Sudanese president Omar Hassan) al-Bashir and Bush know that this agreement is not worth the ink it was written with and does not bind us."

He then said, "I call on mujahidin and their supporters, especially in Sudan and the Arab peninsula, to prepare for long war against the crusader plunderers in Western Sudan," a reference to the Darfur region, where militias allegedly backed by Khartoum have massacred thousands.

Al Qaeda seems to have reinforced its Afghani war front, and claims to be working with Taliban forces in Afghanistan to attack American targets. An Al Qaeda video aired April 25 on Al Arabiyah television shows mujahideen firing missiles at the airport of Khost and other cities and bases in south and southeastern Afghanistan where U.S. forces are stationed. The tape also showed fighters planting a roadside bomb, which then, as seen on the video, destroys a U.S. Army tank as it passes.

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Albion Monitor   April 27, 2006   (

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