Tape: Bin Laden tells Sunnis to fight Shiites in Iraq
Message promoting sectarian violence a change for al Qaeda
From Octavia Nasr
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(CNN) -- Osama bin Laden in a tape posted on the Web encourages Sunnis in Iraq to retaliate against Shiites, deviating from al Qaeda's stand of not promoting sectarian violence.
The al Qaeda leader says that Sunnis in Iraq are experiencing annihilation. Bin Laden also says that the only way for them to win freedom is by "holding on to their jihad" and ousting the occupying power from Iraq.
The message came on a 19-minute audiotape posted late Friday. It was the second message from bin Laden released this week.
CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of the tape, but As-Sahab Media said on its Web site earlier this week that another bin Laden message was expected soon.
Bin Laden was heard Wednesday on an audiotape posted on the Web site. On the tape bin Laden mourns the death of former al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a June 7 U.S. airstrike. A CIA analysis confirmed the voice on is that of bin Laden.
Counterterrorism expert Laura Mansfield said the latest message, which was played over a still image of bin Laden, appears to be authentic and that the voice is consistent with others determined to bin Laden.
A White House official said experts were trying to verify the tape's authenticity.
Call for violence
Bin Laden's call to attack Shiites represents a sea change for al Qaeda, which in the past has been reluctant to criticize Shiites. (Watch how bin Laden urges Sunnis to retaliate -- 2:29)
Al-Zarqawi had been criticized for inciting sectarian violence by targeting Iraq's Shiites. Last year bin Laden's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, wrote a letter to the al Qaeda in Iraq leader telling him to stop, according to the U.S. military, which said it intercepted the letter.
On the tape, bin Laden refers to Shiites as "rejectionist," "traitors" and "agents of the Americans."
Since the end of the war, the majority Shiites have held political sway in Iraq. The sect had been marginalized during the Saddam Hussein regime, which favored Sunnis.
On the tape, bin Laden also names Abu Hamza al-Muhajer as the new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and wishes him luck.
"Our brothers, the mujahedeen in the al Qaeda organization, have chosen the dear brother Abu Hamza al-Muhajer as their leader to succeed the Amir Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," bin Laden says. "I advise him to focus his fighting on the Americans and everyone who supports them and allies himself with them in their war on the people of Islam and Iraq."
U.S. officials have said the leader of the group is a man named Abu Ayyub al-Masri. Senior military sources say al-Masri and al-Mujaher are the same person.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday authorized a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of al-Masri.
Down with unity
Bin Laden also takes aim at efforts by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, to promote a national reconciliation plan.
The al Qaeda leader exhorts Sunnis to reject national unity and warns them against participating in politics. He further refers to foreign forces as crusaders and to the Iraqis working with them as infidels.
"Our Muslim people in Iraq need to learn that no truce should be accepted with the crusaders and the apostates," bin Laden says. "There shouldn't be any half-solutions and there is no way out for them except by fighting and holding on to their jihad. Do not be fooled by the invitations to join political parties and taking part in the so-called political process."
Al-Maliki is on a visit to Gulf states, trying to garner support for his reconciliation plan.
The tone of the message is threatening, said Mansfield, the counterterrorism expert.
She also expressed concern that bin Laden calls on al-Muhajer to work with the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella group of jihadist organizations.
"This provides a level of legitimacy to the Mujahedeen Shura Council that we have not seen before. It is likely that bin Laden sees the Shura Council as the foundation upon which an Islamic government in Iraq can be built," she said.
Bin Laden ends his message by asking God to protect "mujahedeen everywhere," including in Gaza, the West Bank, Kashmir, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Algeria and Saudi Arabia, Mansfield said.
He also praises Somalia, the east African country where the Islamic Courts Union recently took power, saying the Muslim nation is stable only because it embraced Islam.
"We warn all the countries in the world from accepting a U.S. proposal to send international forces to Somalia," bin Laden says. "We swear to God that we will fight their soldiers in Somalia and we reserve our right to punish them on their lands and every accessible place at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner."
Mansfield said she believes the references to other countries are "strongly implying the existence of other bin Laden loyal cells in other parts of the world."
An Arabic-language Web site announced Saturday it would soon post an audio message from bin Laden addressing the mujahedeen in Iraq and Somalia.
U.S. terrorism officials are aware of bin Laden's latest message and are in the lengthy process of confirming its authenticity, according to one U.S. official.
"It is worth keeping in mind that there has not been a false tape attributed to Osama bin Laden," the official said.
This latest tape is the fifth statement by bin Laden this year.
CNN's Barbara Starr, Peter Bergen and Elaine Quijano contributed to this report
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