THE FRIENDLY GHOST
CAIRO – Al-Qaida's deputy leader on Monday seized upon President Barack Obama's failure to bring about a freeze in Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and called him a "fraud" in a new audio message.
Ayman al-Zawahri's 28-minute audio message was mainly a eulogy for slain Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, but he also took the opportunity to slam NATO member states operating in Afghanistan, including Germany, which he criticized for keeping troops there.
The recording comes after a series of al-Qaida videos this past month, including several attacking Germany and threatening strikes against Berlin's military mission in Afghanistan. Those releases raised concerns among German authorities ahead of parliamentary elections which ended Sunday.
Al-Zawahri reserved special scorn for Obama, whom he has insulted in nearly every one of his messages since the latter's historic election as U.S. president.
Many experts believe that Al-Qaida is struggling in the face of Obama's popularity in the Muslim world, especially compared to his predecessor George W. Bush.
Obama publicly called for an Israeli freeze in settlement construction in order to restart the peace talks, but was rebuffed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week.
"Here is Obama, the fraud, who pretended to be affected by the suffering of the Palestinians and then allows the settlements to flourish in the West Bank and in Jerusalem ... while pressing the weak (Arab) leaders to offer more concessions," al-Zawahri said.
U.S. officials have asked Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel to encourage the Jewish state to restart talks with the Palestinians.
"Is the reality of the criminal Obama now clear to us? Or do we need more crimes in Kabul, Baghdad, Mogadishu and Gaza to be sure of his criminal nature," he said.
Al-Zawahri's reference to events taking place just a week earlier indicate the urgency with which the message was recorded and posted as al-Qaida hastens to point out any of Obama's shortcomings in the region.
Germany has become a frequent target of Al-Qaida criticisms in the wake of the German contingent in Afghanistan calling in an airstrike that killed dozens earlier in the month.
Al-Zawahri attacked Chancellor Angela Merkel personally in his message, accusing her of lying when she told parliament that German mission in Afghanistan was to support international peace and security.
"International peace and security will not be realized until you get out from the lands of Muslims and stop interfering in their affairs," he said, apparently addressing the entire NATO alliance.
Al-Zawahri also singled out Turkey, which assumes the rotating command of the NATO peacekeeping operation in Kabul next month, accusing the predominantly Muslim country of "participating in shedding Muslim blood."
In November, Turkey will increase the number of its troops to 1,600 from the current 795, none with combat responsibilities.
About half of the recording was dedicated to the Pakistani Taliban chief Mehsud who was killed following a U.S. strike near the Afghan border on Aug. 5.
Al-Zawahri's eulogy was the terror group's first acknowledgment of the death of one of al-Qaida's main partners in Pakistan's tribal area where top leaders of the terror movement are believed hiding.
Al-Zawahri praised Mehsud for his role in mobilizing fighters in the region, and challenging "the new crusaders and their agents," in reference to the NATO forces and the Pakistani and Afghan security forces.
"To the Americans, their allies and their slaves in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I say you may have killed (Mehsud) ...but you did not kill Islam or holy war," al-Zawahri said, listing 10 of Mehsud's contributions to the jihad cause.
The August U.S. missile strike against Mehsud sparked speculation about his fate and put the group in disarray over a successor. The Pakistani Taliban later declared a former aide to Mehsud as the group's new leader.
Al-Zawahri didn't name the successor but appealed to Muslims around the world to follow in Mehsud's footsteps, and urged Afghans to come out in support of the Taliban.