CAIRO: Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden urged Muslims to launch a jihad against Israel in a new message Wednesday, seeking to harness anger over the Gaza offensive, and vowed to open new fronts against the US.
The White House dismissed the call, saying it reflects bin Laden s isolation and shows he is trying to remain relevant at a time when his ideology and mission are being questioned and challenged.
Bin Laden spoke in an audiotape posted Wednesday on Islamic websites where Al-Qaeda usually issues its messages. It was his first tape since May and came nearly three weeks after Israel launched its offensive against Gaza s Hamas rulers.
In the 22-minute message, bin Laden promised to open new fronts against the US and its allies beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said President-elect Barack Obama has received a heavy inheritance from George W. Bush – two wars and the collapse of the economy, which he said will render the US unable to sustain a long fight against the mujahedeen, or holy warriors.
Bin Laden said there is only one strong way to bring the return of Al-Aqsa and Palestine, and that is jihad in the path of God – referring to the revered Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The duty is to urge people to jihad and to enlist the youth into jihad brigades.
The Al-Qaeda leader also appealed for donations to finance the fight, saying the tithes from any of the great Muslim or Arab traders would be enough for jihad on all the fronts.
This also looks to be an effort to raise money as part of their ongoing propaganda campaign, Johndroe said.
The tape, entitled a call for jihad to stop the aggression on Gaza, was played over a picture of bin Laden and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam s holiest sites. There were no English subtitles and flashy production graphics that usually accompany such messages.
That suggested the message had been hastily put together to exploit Muslim anger over the Gaza offensive, which Palestinian medical officials say has killed more than 1,000 Palestinians, half of them civilians. Israel said the offensive aims to halt rocket fire from Gaza against Israeli towns.
The bin Laden speech is an obvious and cheap attempt to capitalize on the Arab world s boiling anger about the Israeli invasion of Gaza, said terror expert Eric Rosenbach of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard s Kennedy School.
Rosenbach said links between Al-Qaeda and Hamas are tenuous at best and that Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in 2007, has historically distanced itself from bin Laden s terror movement.
Bin Laden and his lieutenants frequently use the Palestinian issue to try to rally support for Al-Qaeda and often call for holy war to free Jerusalem. But there has been little sign that the terror group has carried out attacks in Israel.
Bin Laden made no direct reference to Hamas, and Al-Qaeda leaders have frequently criticized the Palestinian group for participating in elections and failing to seriously pursue jihad against Israel.
The Al-Qaeda leader also accused Arab leaders of avoiding their responsibility to liberate Palestine.
If you are not convinced to fight, then open the way to those who are convinced, he said.
Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group that monitors such websites, said bin Laden was attempting to convince Palestinians and the Muslims around the world that the only group that can help them is the jihadists and that Arab rulers and the Palestinian movements have failed them.
His other purpose is to exploit the conflict to exhort others to jihad and build support for Al-Qaeda, she said.
Katz said the bin Laden s appeal for money to finance jihad was unusual and might reflect financial difficulties facing Al-Qaeda. -Carley Petesch contributed to this report from New York.