|Al-Qaida Leader Urges Support for Hamas
Monday June 25, 2007 5:46 PM
By MAGGIE MICHAEL
Associated Press Writer
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Al-Qaida's deputy leader called on Muslims worldwide to back Hamas with weapons, money and attacks on U.S. and Israeli interests, urging the Palestinian militant group on Monday to unite with al-Qaida after its takeover of Gaza.
The Internet audio message from Ayman al-Zawahri, who is Osama bin Laden's top deputy, marked a major shift by al-Qaida, which in the past criticized Hamas for joining a government with the U.S.-supported Fatah faction.
The audiotape appeared aimed at exploiting Hamas' gains and could fuel fears among Arab countries that Hamas-run Gaza will become a breeding ground for armed extremists.
But Hamas appeared unconfortable Monday with al-Zawahri's approach. The Palestinian group has been cool in the past to attempts to link it with al-Qaida, saying its conflict is with Israel and that it has no plans to attack targets abroad. Also, Hamas does not want to alienate powerful Arab countries, such as Egypt.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, a hardliner, distanced his group from the al-Qaida deputy's comments, but stopped short of criticizing them.
"Hamas has its own program, regardless of the comments of this group or that group," he said Monday. "In Hamas, we want to have good relations with all Arab and Muslim powers, regardless of how close or far away we are in our own programs."
The audiotape was clearly made after Hamas' takeover of Gaza earlier this month, marking a rapid response from al-Qaida's top leadership to the events. Its authenticity could not be independently confirmed, but it was posted on a Web forum where al-Zawahri has issued messages in the past.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Paris dfor diplomatic meetings, was asked whether the message portends an opening for Al-Qaida, which previously has not had a large following among Palestinians.
"Extremism in the Middle East, and unfortunately in the Palestinian territories continues," Rice said, "and extremists link up with extremists."
Al-Zawahri urged Hamas to implement Islamic law in Gaza, telling it, "Taking over power is not a goal but a means to implement God's word on earth."
"Unite with mujahedeen (holy warriors) in Palestine ... and with all mujahedeen in the world in the face of the upcoming attack where Egyptians and Saudis are expected to play part of it," he added, suggesting that the two countries intend to attack Hamas to uproot its control of Gaza.
"Provide them (Hamas) with money, do your best to get it there, break the siege imposed on them by crusaders and Arab leader traitors," al-Zawahri, who is Osama bin Laden's top deputy, said, addressing Muslims around the world. "Facilitate weapons smuggling from neighboring countries."
"We can support them by targeting the crusader and Zionist interests wherever we can," al-Zawahri said.
The 25-minute tape, al-Zawahri's seventh released this year, was posted on the same day Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was hosting a summit in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheik as a show of support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. Along with Mubarak and Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jordan's King Abdullah II are also attending the meeting.
Egypt in particular fears a Hamas-ruled Gaza could fuel extremism that could spill over the border onto its own territory.
In Monday's tape, al-Zawahri called on Bedouins in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula to help Hamas against the "repressive Egyptian regime."
The Gaza-Egypt border is riddled with tunnels through which weapons and explosives have been smuggled in both direction. Egypt has accused militants among the Sinai's Bedouin population of being behind three terror attacks on tourist resorts in the peninsula since 2004.