The head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, lashed out at contacts between some rebels and U.S. officials as he announced the creation of a new unit to take on Shiite foes, in a voice message attributed to him. The announcement was followed by a posting on an Al-Qaeda Web site threatening to kill Egypt’s kidnapped diplomat because Egypt has allied with “Jews and Christians.”
Zarqawi, who has a $25 million bounty on his head, also purportedly vowed to head to the Palestinian territories to continue the fight after “victory” had been won in Iraq.
“The enemy is experiencing its worst days on the soil of Mesopotamia, at a time when a member of the U.S. Congress has said the United States is losing the war in Iraq,” said the voice message on an Internet site.
“Some people want to stop our jihad in Mesopotamia,” the voice said, referring to the contacts that have taken place between insurgents in Iraq and U.S. officials.
It was not possible to verify the authenticity of the message, which comes two days after a newly named “spokesman” for two Iraqi insurgent groups asked the U.S. Congress to make an “official” offer for negotiations.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has confirmed that contacts have taken place between Washington and elements from the insurgency, and also made clear that the United States has never talked with Zarqawi.
Zarqawi, whose insurgency is operated by mainly Sunni militants, said he was creating a new brigade, called “Brigade Omar” to take on its opponents within Iraq’s majority Shiite community.
The new brigade would “seek to remove the symbols and the members of the brigades of treason, the Badr Brigades,” referring to the thousands-strong Shiite paramilitaries trained and supported by Iran to fight the former regime.
Its parent organization, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, says it has now been transformed into a political organization called the Badr Organization.
Hours after the message was made public, a lieutenant colonel in the Badr militia was gunned down in Baghdad, the Defense Ministry said, adding that he was carrying a badge that identified him as a member of the group.
In the new recording, Zarqawi for the first time also vowed to move “after the victory in Iraq” into the Palestinian territories to continue the jihad there.
“All that we want is to win a victory in Iraq so that we can go into Beit Al-Maqdes,” he said, referring to Jerusalem.
In the Web statement pertaining to the Egyptian diplomat, Al-Qaeda declared that its religious court decided to hand over Ihab al-Sherif to its fighters “to carry out the punishment of apostasy against him.” Under Islam, apostasy, or changing religion, is punishable by death.
The statement was ominous because Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been responsible for beheading several foreign hostages.
Since Sherif, 51, was taken captive Saturday night, two more diplomats from Muslim countries have been ambushed in suspected kidnap attempts as part of what Iraqi officials say is an effort to sow a climate of fear and discourage Arab and Islamic countries from strengthening their ties to Iraq’s new government.
In Cairo, a senior Foreign Ministry official said the government was “in continuous contact” with the Iraqi government “and all other forces of the Iraqi society” in an effort to win Sherif’s release.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Ahmed Abu al-Gheit, spoke to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari by telephone, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Earlier Wednesday, the same Web site posted pictures of Sherif’s identification cards, saying it was proof that Al-Qaeda in Iraq had taken the envoy.
Without mentioning Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak by name, the statement denounced “that idol of Egypt,” saying he promotes U.S. interests in the Middle East and that his “torture against Muslims is the harshest.”
The statement openly linked Sherif’s kidnapping to Egypt’s announcement last month that it would be the first Arab government to upgrade its mission in Iraq to a full embassy headed by an ambassador.
Meanwhile, a senior aide to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said during a visit to Bahrain’s diplomatic mission Wednesday that the recent spate of attacks against Arab envoys was aimed at forcing embassies to withdraw from Iraq.
Sheikh Hassan al-Ithari said the meeting was part of Sadr’s desire to hear Arab sentiment about the attacks. Sadr aides plan to visit between six and seven diplomatic missions in the coming days. – AFP, AP