Bin Laden talks of Hamas, Sudan in latest tape


CAIRO, Egypt -- Osama bin Laden denounced what he called a "Zionist crusaders' war on Islam" in an audiotape broadcast yesterday, pointing to the isolation of the Hamas-led Palestinian government, talk of a Western peacekeeping force in Sudan and the Muslim outrage over Danish cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad as new evidence of a clash of civilizations.

His voice sounding strong and combative, bin Laden implied that killing American civilians was justified, beseeched Muslims to fight any Sudan peacekeeping force and called for the creators of the offensive cartoons to be turned over to al-Qaida for punishment.

The audiotape, broadcast by the Al-Jazeera network and deemed authentic by American intelligence officials and terrorism experts, was bin Laden's second in three months and the first in which he has raised Sudan as a possible new battleground where Muslims should go and fight. The tape appeared designed not only to re-establish his role as a sort of supreme guide for al-Qaida but to inform his enemies that he is acutely aware of current major news events that reflect violent confrontation between Islam and the West.

While al-Qaida had previously criticized Hamas leaders for participating in Palestinian elections, bin Laden sought to tap into the wide public support among Arabs for Hamas, which Israel, the United States and European Union regard as a terrorist organization.

"The blockade which the West is imposing on the government of Hamas proves that there is a Zionist crusaders' war on Islam," he said.

Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, told reporters traveling with President Bush in California that the White House believed the bin Laden tape to be authentic and that the president had been informed of its existence at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time. McClellan also said that "the al-Qaida leadership is on the run and under a lot of pressure."

Although there was no way to absolutely confirm the tape's authenticity, terrorism experts said it was credible in part because it hued closely to bin Laden's ideological and tactical profile. While bin Laden did not once mention the U.S. occupation of Iraq in the portions of the tape that were broadcast, he focused on three primary issues that have resounded across the Arab and Muslim worlds: efforts of the West to isolate Hamas; calls for sending Western peacekeeping troops into the Darfur region of Sudan to stop the killing of civilians; and the outrage over the Danish cartoons, which lampooned the prophet.

In the case of Sudan, bin Laden sought to portray talk of bringing in peacekeeping troops as another attempt by the United States to divide Arab lands and to impose a foreign military on an Islamic country.

"I call on mujahedeen and their supporters, especially in Sudan and the Arab peninsula, to prepare for long war against the crusader plunderers in Western Sudan," bin Laden said. "Our goal is not defending the Khartoum government but to defend Islam, its land and its people."

Even before rising to international notoriety with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, bin Laden had long sought to unite a culturally, politically and socially fragmented community of Muslims behind a common enemy: Israel and the West. With his most recent tape, analysts said, bin Laden held true to form, not only by embracing Hamas, but in particular by pointing to Sudan.

"He is using the hottest topics in the Arab world, Hamas for example. He knows that the Arab street is very angry as America is cutting off Hamas aid and he is using this issue to fuel the situation even further and incite young people to join his cause," said Muhammad Salah, Cairo bureau chief for the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat and an expert in Islamic extremism. "What is new in this tape is the issue of Sudan. He had lived in Sudan and invested his money there and he knows that the Arab people and government are against international intervention in Sudan."

While bin Laden's name still resonates around the world, it is not entirely clear that bin Laden can reclaim the mantle as the leader of the al-Qaida terrorism network. And there has been no videotape seen of bin Laden since the last American presidential campaign.

"My initial impression is he is clutching at straws," said Michael Chandler, former head of the U.N. unit on counterterrorism. "If he really wants to show leadership, the way you show leadership is to show yourself. So why haven't we had a videotape?"

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