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Bin Laden tells followers to prepare for long war

Tape condemns global 'crusade' against Islam

BERLIN -- Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden urged his followers to prepare for a drawn-out conflict with the Western world in a new audiotape broadcast yesterday, blaming what he called ''a Crusader-Zionist war" for a long list of attacks on Islam in places from Darfur to Denmark.

''Your aircraft and tanks are destroying houses over the heads of our kinfolk and children in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Pakistan. Meanwhile, you smile in our faces, saying: We are not hostile to Islam; we are hostile to terrorists," Bin Laden said, according to excerpts of the audiotape attributed to him and broadcast by Al Jazeera network.

It was the first time that Bin Laden had been heard from since Jan. 19, when he offered ''a long-term truce" if the United States and its allies withdrew their forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and allowed Islamic fundamentalists to rebuild those countries instead.

Prior to that, the 49-year-old Saudi had been silent for more than a year. His face has not been seen since he appeared in a video recording a few days before the 2004 US presidential election.

Intelligence sources said they believe he is hiding in Pakistan, defying a global manhunt and the $25 million reward for his capture posted shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings.

In his most recent remarks, Bin Laden complained about ongoing Western interference in shattered Muslim regions around the world. He urged jihadists to go to the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan to fight international peacekeepers, saying their real mission was ''to occupy the region and steal its oil under the cover of maintaining security there," according to a translation of the audiotape by the BBC.

The United States and other Western countries are supporting a plan to send UN peacekeepers to Darfur, where an Arab militia backed by the Sudanese government is fighting rebel groups. Both sides are Muslim. Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict, and 2 million have been displaced from their homes.

He also referred to the strife in the Russian republic of Chechnya and to the lawless country of Somalia.

''What is the meaning of the silence over the horrible Russian crimes in Chechnya and the lynching of Muslims and tearing apart of their bodies? What does the humiliation of Muslims in Somalia and the killing of 13,000 of our brother Muslims there mean?" Bin Laden said. He did not elaborate on the reference to the deaths in Somalia.

He cited decisions by the United States and European nations to cut off aid to Palestinians after the recent legislative victory by the militant group Hamas as evidence of a Christian-Jewish conspiracy against Muslims.

''They are determined to continue with their Crusader campaigns against our nation, to occupy our countries, to plunder our resources, and to enslave us," he said.

Al Jazeera did not divulge how it obtained the tape, and it was unclear when exactly it was recorded. But it appears to have been made in the past five weeks because Bin Laden referred to a raid by Israeli forces on a Palestinian prison in Jericho on March 14.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said US intelligence officials believe the tape is authentic. ''The Al Qaeda leadership is on the run and under a lot of pressure," McClellan told reporters traveling with President Bush in California. ''We are continuing to take the fight to the enemy abroad and making it difficult for them to plan and plot against Americans."

Counterterrorism analysts said Bin Laden was trying to portray himself as a champion for oppressed Muslims around the world even though Al Qaeda has historically avoided involvement in many of the conflicts that he cited.

For example, Bin Laden has largely ignored events in Sudan since he and his network were kicked out of the country a decade ago. Similarly, Al Qaeda has no track record of activity in the Palestinian territories.

''Bin Laden is a master craftsman at recognizing issues and knowing how to exploit these issues for his own purposes," said M.J. Gohel, a London-based analyst and chief executive of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a security think tank. ''He's trying to enlarge the global conflict and is trying to incite and anger the Muslim world against the West."

Bruce Hoffman, a specialist on terrorism and director of the Washington office of the Rand Corporation, a California-based research group, said Al Qaeda is confronting the same challenge that faces all terrorism networks: how to remain relevant as a radical movement over time.

''It's entirely cynical," he said of Bin Laden's rallying cry on behalf of Darfur and Hamas. ''He's got to say something about someplace. They've got to keep talking or else they're going to be irrelevant, especially when they're not directly involved in the fighting."

''These are contentious contemporary issues that he can glom onto and milk for his own ends," Hoffman added. ''It's more rhetorical than factual. Bin Laden is no friend of the Sudanese. They told him to leave in 1996 and took his money. And Hamas has basically told Al Qaeda to mind its own business."

Counterterrorism officials and analysts said Al Qaeda's leaders have become more outspoken in recent months because they fear losing their influence in the fragmented world of Islamic fundamentalism.

Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, an Egyptian physician, have been effectively sidelined since the Sept. 11 attacks while other radical groups and figures, such as Hamas and Jordanian fighter Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, have stolen the limelight.

Zawahri, for instance, has issued a dozen audio and video recordings in the past year, attempting, like Bin Laden, to insert Al Qaeda into a host of regional conflicts and urging Muslims to boycott elections in Iraq, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

While Zawahri has frequently shown his face on television, Bin Laden has not appeared in a video since October 2004.

Terrorism analysts and even Islamic fundamentalist leaders are divided as to why. Some speculated that Bin Laden may have been injured or could have altered his appearance to avoid detection.

Others said Bin Laden fully reveals himself only on special occasions for maximum effect, such as his last cameo days before the US presidential election.

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