- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

CAIRO (AP) — Al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri called on Muslims in a new audiotape released yesterday to strike Jewish and American targets in revenge for Israel’s recent offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The Zawahri tape came on the heels of a message from Osama bin Laden, who called for a holy war to liberate the Palestinian territories. Together, the two messages appeared to be a more direct push by the terror network’s leadership to use widespread anger over the Gaza violence to whip up support.

Israel’s weeklong offensive in Gaza ended in early March. It was waged in an attempt to put down Palestinian militants firing rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot and city of Ashkelon. The Israeli assault killed at least 120 people, including many civilians. Three Israelis also were killed.

Bin Laden and Zawahri have frequently referred to the Palestinian cause in their past messages, but usually in broader terms of liberating Jerusalem and denouncing Israeli violence. Their latest calls for attacks, however, had a more urgent tone.

The string of messages has raised concerns that al Qaeda could be planning new attacks in the West — or is seeking to inspire its sympathizers to carry out violence. In another message last week, bin Laden warned of a “severe” reaction against Europe after Danish papers published another cartoon seen as insulting Islam’s prophet Muhammad.

The authenticity of the four-minute, 44-second audiotape could not be independently confirmed. But the voice resembled that of Zawahri on previous audio and videotapes confirmed to be his. It was posted on an Islamic militant Web site, where al Qaeda usually releases its statements.

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