CAIRO, Egypt – Al-Qaida’s No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri said in a new message Friday that last month’s U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference was a “betrayal” of the Palestinians, the terror group’s first reaction to the gathering.
The audiotape by Osama bin Laden’s deputy was the latest al-Qaida attempt to rally Muslims using the widespread bitterness felt toward Israel over the Palestinian issue.
Al-Zawahri focused his anger against Egypt, a top U.S. ally and the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel. He called on Bedouin tribes in his native country to rise up against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak.
The Nov. 27 peace conference in Annapolis, Md., relaunched Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and was attended by most Arab nations. Participants included leading players Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria — despite their initial reluctance about a gathering many Arabs worried would not commit Israel to making concessions.
“The Annapolis meeting was held to turn Palestine into a Jewish state,” al-Zawahri said in the 20-minute audio recording posted on an Islamic militant Web forum. The posting carried a still photo of the white-turbaned al-Zawahri against a backdrop photograph from the Maryland conference.
“The czar of Washington invited 16 Arab countries … to sit in one room, at one table with the Israelis,” al-Zawahri said, adding the conference “witnessed the betrayal deals to sell Palestine.”
The authenticity of the tape could not be independently confirmed, but the voice was recognizable as al-Zawahri’s. It was posted by al-Qaida’s media arm, Al-Sahab, on a site where it usually releases messages.
The site also had a banner advertising an upcoming “interview” of al-Zawahri by al-Sahab, with a picture of him in a white traditional Arab robe and white turban, seated before a bookshelf. Such notices are usually posted up to 72 hours before the message is released.
“My brothers in Palestine, we, all Muslims, the mujahedeen (holy warriors) are by your side in your confrontation with the Zionist enemy,” al-Zawahri said. “We will not let you down even if your politicians do.”
The Egyptian-born al-Zawahri denounced Mubarak’s government, saying it had turned Egypt into a “base to supply the Crusader war on Muslims and Islam.” He denounced Egypt’s sealing of its border with Gaza after the takeover of the Palestinian territory by the militant group Hamas and Cairo’s support for the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
He called on Bedouin living in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on the border with Gaza and Israel to rise up against Mubarak, who he said wants to “turn you into subjects in the Israeli obscene trade in Sinai resorts” — a reference to Red Sea beach resorts frequented by Israelis.
From 2004-2006, a series of terror bombings hit Egyptian resorts in the Sinai, killing 121 people. Egyptian authorities have blamed the attacks on Islamic militants among Sinai’s Bedouin, though some Israeli and Western officials have warned that al-Qaida may have had a role.
Al-Zawahri also called on the Egyptian military not to be “assistants to the Crusaders and Jews in imposing siege on your brothers” and to “let the needs of your brothers in Palestine pass” into Gaza.
For much of the recording, al-Zawahri also denounced an Islamic militant ideologue who, after years in an Egyptian prison, has published a treatise known as the “revisions,” renouncing militant violence.
The jailed ideologue, Sayed Imam, was once a top leader in Egypt’s Islamic Jihad group and an associate of al-Zawahri. Imam’s writings in the 1980s spelled a basis in Islamic law for violence against “infidel” regimes and were highly influential among al-Qaida militants. But his “revisions,” published last month, argue such violence is banned under Islamic law.
“Those revisionists are in fact calling for a new American religion that violates God’s rules,” al-Zawahri said.
The message was the 15th tape or video released by al-Zawahri this year.
Al-Zawahri — seen by many experts to be al-Qaida’s operational chief, rather than bin Laden — is believed to play a major role in directing al-Qaida’s strategy and often also details the group’s doctrinal line.