- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

BAGHDAD — The new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq said in an audio message posted online yesterday 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 message also called for experts in the fields of “chemistry, physics, electronics, media and all other sciences — especially nuclear scientists and explosives experts” to join the terror group’s holy war against the West.

“We are in dire need of you,” said the man, who identified himself as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir — also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri — the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. “The field of jihad [holy war] can satisfy your scientific ambitions, and the large American bases [in Iraq] are good places to test your unconventional weapons, whether biological or dirty, as they call them.”

It was not clear why al-Masri would advertise the loss of the group’s foreign fighters, but martyrdom is revered among Islamist fundamentalists, and could be used as a recruiting tool. The Arabic word he used, “muhajer,” indicated he was speaking about foreigners who joined the insurgency in Iraq, and not coalition troops.

“The blood has been spilled in Iraq of more than 4,000 foreigners who came to fight,” the man thought to be al-Masri said on the 20-minute tape. The voice could not be independently identified.

Al-Masri also offered amnesty to Iraqis who cooperated with their country’s “occupiers,” calling on them to “return to your religion and nation” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which Sunnis began observing in Iraq on Saturday and Shi’ites on Monday.

He urged insurgents 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 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,” he said.

Al-Masri, a Sunni Muslim, is believed to have succeeded Abu Musab Zarqawi, who died in a U.S. air strike north of Baghdad in June.

Meanwhile, police found 40 more bodies in Baghdad, 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.

The violence came amid reports from a number of senior coalition military officials that a large and powerful militia run by radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has been breaking apart into freelance death squads and gangs — some of which are being influenced by Iran.

Sheik al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army is one of the largest and most powerful militias in Iraq, along with the Badr Brigades, which was once the military wing of Iraq’s largest Shi’ite political group — the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

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