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Bin Laden praises Zarqawi in new Web message

Calls slain insurgent 'the lion of jihad'

CAIRO -- Osama bin Laden praised slain Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as the ``lion of holy war" in a new audiotape posted on the Web today.

The 19-minute message shows an old still photo of bin Laden in a split-screen next to images of Zarqawi taken from a previous video. A voice resembling bin Laden's narrates a tribute to the Jordanian-born militant, who was killed in a June 7 airstrike northeast of Baghdad.

``Our Islamic nation was surprised to find its knight, the lion of jihad [holy war], the man of determination and will, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed in a shameful American raid," bin Laden said.

It was the fourth message put out this year by Al Qaeda leader bin Laden. All have featured his voice in audiotapes. New video images of him have not appeared since October 2004.

The authenticity of the video could not be immediately confirmed. It bore the logo of As-Sahab, the Al Qaeda production branch that releases all its messages and was posted on an Islamic Web forum where militants often post messages. Typically, the CIA does a technical analysis to determine whether the speaker is who the tape claims and the National Counterterrorism Center analyzes the message's contents.

In the tape, bin Laden's voice sounded breathy and fatigued at times.

``Even if we lost one of our greatest knights and princes, we are happy that we have found a symbol for our great Islamic nations, one that the mujahedeen will remember and praise in poetry and in stories secretly and aloud," bin Laden said.

A similar video tribute was released a week ago by bin Laden's deputy, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri, who did appear personally in the video, shown speaking to the camera.

The videos appear to be part of an attempt by Al Qaeda's central leadership to tout their connection to Zarqawi, who emerged as a hero among Islamic extremists with his dramatic attacks against Shi'ites and Westerners in Iraq.

Zarqawi swore loyalty to bin Laden but is believed to have had sometimes rocky ties with Al Qaeda's core leadership, based in the Afghan-Pakistani border region.

In July 2005, bin Laden's deputy reportedly wrote a letter to Zarqawi criticizing his attacks on Iraqi Shi'ite mosques and civilians, saying they hurt the mujahideen's image. The Al Qaeda deputy also asked Zarqawi for money, according to the US military, which said it intercepted the message.

Zarqawi apparently brushed off the criticism as he continued to attack Shi'ites, a strategy intended to spark a Sunni-Shi'ite civil war.

Any tension between Zarqawi and Al Qaeda's command appeared to have faded by early 2006, because Zawahri has now issued three videotapes this year in which he effusively praises Zarqawi.

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