Wednesday, September 10, 2003

LONDON — Al Qaeda has begun a massive recruitment drive for volunteers to wage war against America and Western-friendly governments in Iraq, Central Asia and throughout the Middle East.

Osama bin Laden’s network has also published three electronic-books on its new Web site: two that detail its tactics and intentions in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and a handbook called “The 39 Steps to Jihad.”

The latest publicity drive kicked into high gear yesterday, the eve of the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, with a series of taped messages from bin Laden and a top lieutenant.

An audiotape purportedly from bin Laden’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, urged Muslims to “devour the Americans as lions do and bury them in the graveyard of Iraq.”

It was aired on the Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera, along with what was said to be new video footage of bin Laden and al-Zawahri together.

A voice said to be bin Laden’s, in a separate audiotape, praised the suicide hijackers who flew planes into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon in Washington and a field in Pennsylvania.

One of the recent Internet books about the May Riyadh bombings, was authored by Sheik Yousef al-Ayyeri, a close friend of bin Laden.

It confirms for the first time that al Qaeda has been conducting operations inside Iraq.

It says: “The number [of those who carried out the bombings] reported by the press is inaccurate. Some of them who were not predestined for martyrdom continue to cause losses to the enemies of Allah, the Americans, in Iraq, and carried out acts of heroism there. …”

The book goes on to implore supporters to rally to the cause and says more personnel are needed on the ground: “Jihad is what they need more than anything else, except food and water.

“Although the al Qaeda organization fights to defend the [Islamic] nation, it does not fight on the nation’s behalf; therefore, anyone who cannot join al Qaeda is not exempt from the obligation of jihad [until] he has done everything possible to search for jihad and did not succeed in joining any of its fronts. …”

Though this Web site has been offline since its operator, al-Ayyeri, a close friend of bin Laden, was killed in a shootout with police in Saudi Arabia in June, other al Qaeda-linked sites are not hard to find.

One group that no longer feels the need to conceal its intentions is Hizb ut-Tahrir (HUT), which is using a series of six primary Web sites based in the United States, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Pakistan to attract volunteers to fight in Iraq.

The group shares al Qaeda’s ultimate goal of establishing a global Islamic dictatorship, called a caliphate, and it claims to have established a base in Iraq three months ago.

Its call to jihad — titled “Annihilate the Fourth Crusade” — says: “Is it not a great shame that the armies of America and Britain are mobilized to commit aggression upon Muslim countries, one after another, whilst the armies of the Muslims lie dormant in their barracks, watching the shedding of Muslim blood?

“Your previous generations, O Muslims, triumphed in the opening of lands and spread justice worldwide. Should you not go forth like them, following their footsteps, and annihilate the new crusaders?

“Let the armies move to help the Muslims in Iraq for they seek your help.”

Based in Britain and claiming to be active in 40 countries, a recent Heritage Foundation report described the group as an “emerging threat to U.S. interests.”

The group has been banned in Germany and many other countries for its extreme views and is listed as a terrorist organization in Russia.

In June, Russia’s Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, arrested 51 HUT members in a raid in Moscow and recovered a cache of weapons and explosives.

The group’s founding leader is the radical Muslim cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad, who now heads a hard-line Islamic group in Britain called Al Muhajiroun, which has been dubbed the “north London Taliban.”

Muhammad is a key supporter of bin Laden and regularly shares platforms at meetings with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a fellow cleric who is wanted as a terrorist suspect in the United States.

The group is active in 30 British cities and its members often boast about their recruitment activity. It is known in the intelligence community to be a prime supplier of foreign recruits to al Qaeda.

“Sure, [the Al Muhajiroun] are a major recruiter for terrorists. It is common knowledge among counterterrorism operatives and agents that they are a front for bin Laden,” said a U.S. government security and defense analyst.

“There are clear al Qaeda ties by way of religious, criminal and foreign mujahideen links. Al Muhajiroun, being the bin Laden front in the UK, essentially connects all the dots.”

Since the U.S.-led war on terrorism began after the September 11, 2001, attacks, militant Islamic groups have been turning to the Internet increasingly to disseminate propaganda, recruitment material and raise funds.

Web discussion forums and Hotmail-type e-mail accounts that require no proof of identification offer a good degree of security for the terrorists.

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