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US faltering in Iraq, Qaeda deputy declares

CAIRO -- Al Qaeda's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, urged all Muslims to support insurgents fighting in Iraq ''for the dignity of Islam" and said the ''enemy has begun to falter," according to a video posted yesterday on the Internet.

The video was dated with an Islamic month corresponding to November 2005 -- and Zawahri mentions an Oct. 23 earthquake that hit Pakistan and Afghanistan. But it appeared to be the first time the 28-minute video has been made public.

In the footage, Zawahri appears sitting, wearing a white turban and a gray robe with a microphone pinned to it. An automatic weapon is behind him.

''The Islamic nation must support the heroic mujahideen [holy warriors] in Iraq, who are fighting on the very front line for the dignity of Islam," Zawahri said.

''And to my brother mujahideen in Iraq, I say, stay firm. Stay together. Your enemy has begun to falter, so don't stop pursuing him until he flees defeated," he said.

He called on Muslims to support his ''beloved brother" Jordanian militant Abu Musab Zarqawi, who heads Al Qaeda in Iraq. ''I have lived with him up close, and have seen nothing but good from him," Zawahri said.

Two US counterterrorism officials declined immediate comment.

It was not clear if the video was made before a Nov. 9 triple suicide bombing of hotels in the Jordanian capital Amman that killed at least 60 people, mostly Muslims.

Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack, but the civilian deaths brought widespread criticism of Zarqawi, even from some Islamic militants. In the wake of the backlash over the Amman bombings, Zarqawi joined his group to a wider coalition of Iraqi insurgent groups and has not issued his own statements since January.

In yesterday's video, Zawahri did not mention the hotel bombings and, since the timing was unclear, it could not be known if the comments aimed to show support for Zarqawi amid the criticism.

Zawahri -- an Egyptian who is Osama bin Laden's deputy in Al Qaeda and is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan -- said he was making the video to mark the fourth anniversary of the December 2001 battle of Tora Bora, in which US forces besieged bin Laden and Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.

Related:
 Patrols stepped up in Baghdad (By Sameer N. Yacoub, Associated Press, 4/14/06)
 Ties between US, Shi'ites growing frayed (By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post , 4/14/06)
 US faltering in Iraq, Qaeda deputy declares (By Lee Keath, Associated Press, 4/14/06)
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