- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2009

CAIRO | Osama bin Laden urged Muslims to launch a jihad against Israel, seeking to harness anger over the Gaza offensive with a new message posted Wednesday on the Internet.

The al Qaeda chief vowed to open “new fronts” against the U.S. and its allies beyond Iraq and Afghanistan and also criticized Arab leaders, accusing most of them of being allies of the U.S. and Israel.

The White House dismissed the call to jihad, saying it reflects bin Laden’s isolation and shows he is trying to remain relevant at a time when his ideology and mission are being challenged.

Bin Laden spoke in a 22-minute audiotape posted on Islamic militant Web sites where al Qaeda usually issues its messages. The 51-year-old al Qaeda leader has been in hiding since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He is believed to be living somewhere along the lawless Pakistan-Afghan border.

It was bin Laden’s first tape since May and came nearly three weeks after Israel launched its offensive against Hamas that Gaza medical officials say has killed more than 1,000 Palestinians.

He said President-elect Barack Obama has received a “heavy inheritance” from President Bush — two wars and “the collapse of the economy.” He predicted that burden will render the U.S. unable to sustain a long fight against the mujahedeen, or holy warriors.

There is “only one strong way to bring the return of Al Aqsa and Palestine, and that is jihad in the path of God,” bin Laden said, referring to the revered Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. “The duty is to urge people to jihad and to enlist the youth into jihad brigades.”

He also appealed for donations to finance the fight, saying the “tithes from any of the great Muslim or Arab traders” would be enough “for jihad on all the fronts.”

The authenticity of the tape could not be independently confirmed.

“Wherever he is, he’s in a deep hole,” Vice President Dick Cheney said in an interview with PBS’ “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.” “He does not have much impact on the organization as best we can tell.”

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House, said, “It appears this tape demonstrates his isolation and continued attempts to remain relevant at a time when al Qaeda’s ideology, mission and agenda are being questioned and challenged throughout the world.”

“This also looks to be an effort to raise money as part of their ongoing propaganda campaign,” he added.

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