- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2006

CAIRO — Osama bin Laden issued new threats in an audiotape broadcast yesterday while accusing Western powers of supporting a “Zionist” war on Islam by cutting off funds to the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

He also urged followers to go to Sudan, his former base, to fight a proposed U.N. peacekeeping force.

It was the first message in three months from the al Qaeda leader, who is thought to be hiding in a remote tribal area along Afghanistan’s 1,500-mile border with Pakistan.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said U.S. intelligence officials think the tape is authentic and that it proved that “the al Qaeda leadership is on the run and under a lot of pressure.” U.S. intelligence officials familiar with bin Laden’s pursuit said they think he has become separated from his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, who is thought to be hiding in a more settled area along the same border.

Each is surrounded by operatives of his own nationality, and some U.S. security officials think the two may have had a split, the intelligence officials said. Neither man mentions the other by name in public pronouncements, and both headed separate groups before joining forces in 1998.

In the statement broadcast yesterday on Arab television, bin Laden appeared to be trying to provoke Arabs by accusing the West of targeting Hamas, a militant group that fights Israel and now heads the Palestinian government.

Citing the Western aid cutoff to the Hamas-led government because it refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel, bin Laden said Washington and Europe were waging war on Islam.

“The blockade which the West is imposing on the government of Hamas proves that there is a Zionist, crusaders’ war on Islam,” said the tape, which U.S. intelligence officials think is authentic.

Al Qaeda is not thought to have direct links to Hamas, which is an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri was quick to distance the group from bin Laden, declaring that “the ideology of Hamas is totally different from the ideology of Sheik bin Laden.”

The groups do share an anti-Israel ideology that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, and Middle East press and broadcast reports have said al Qaeda is trying to build cells in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon and Sudan.

Concerning Sudan, bin Laden called on “mujahedeen and their supporters, especially in Sudan and the Arab Peninsula, to prepare for a long war against the crusader plunderers in Western Sudan. Our goal is not defending the Khartoum government but to defend Islam, its land and its people.”

“I urge holy warriors to be acquainted with the land and the tribes in Darfur,” he said, adding that they should be aware that the rainy season approaches and that will hamper their movement.