- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

1:07 p.m.

BAGHDAD — The new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq said in an audio message posted on a Web site today that more than 4,000 foreign terrorists have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 — the first apparent acknowledgment from the insurgents about their losses.

“The blood has been spilled in Iraq of more than 4,000 foreigners who came to fight,” according to the Internet message by a man who identified himself as Abu Hamza Muhajir — also known as Abu Ayyub Masri — the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. The voice could not be identified independently.

The Arabic word he used indicated he was speaking about foreigners who joined the insurgency in Iraq, not coalition troops.

Masri’s message also urged Muslims to make the holy month of Ramadan a “month of holy war” and urged insurgents in Iraq to kidnap Westerners. Masri is believed to have succeeded Abu Musab Zarqawi, who died in a U.S. air strike north of Baghdad in June.

Masri also called for explosives experts and nuclear scientists to join his group’s holy war against the West. He said U.S. military bases in Iraq were “good places to test your unconventional weapons, whether biological or dirty.”

Masri urged Muslims to escalate their attacks during Ramadan, which Sunnis began observing in Iraq on Saturday and Shi’ites on Monday. He called on insurgents in Iraq to capture Westerners so they could be traded for the imprisoned Egyptian sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted in 1995 of conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks.

“I appeal to every holy warrior in the land of Iraq to exert all efforts in this holy month so that God may enable us to capture some of the Western dogs to swap them with our sheik and get him out of his dark prison,” the voice on the tape said.

Meanwhile, police found 40 more bodies in the capital, and bombings and shootings killed at least 21 persons in a spike of violence with the onset of Ramadan.

A car bomb exploded near a restaurant in central Baghdad, killing five persons and wounding 34, police said. Although the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan is under way, some Iraqis — including Christians — are not abstaining from eating meals during daytime hours.

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