'Trapped' Bin Laden deputy urges army to oust Musharraf

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The Independent Online

Arabic television has broadcast a purported new audiotape by Osama bin Laden's right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahri, in which he urges the Pakistani army to mutiny and lead the overthrow of the government of President Pervez Musharraf.

Arabic television has broadcast a purported new audiotape by Osama bin Laden's right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahri, in which he urges the Pakistani army to mutiny and lead the overthrow of the government of President Pervez Musharraf.

"Musharraf seeks to stab the Islamic resistance in Afghanistan in the back," said the speaker on the tape, aired by the al-Jazeera network yesterday. "Every Muslim in Pakistan should work hard to get rid of this agent government, which will continue to submit to America until it destroys Pakistan."

Although no immediate authentification was possible, experts said that at first hearing the voice sounded like that of Zawahri, widely believed to be the main operational organiser of al-Qa'ida.

Pakistani troops are continuing their two-week offensive against a large number of al-Qa'ida fighters said to be trapped in a pocket of the remote Northwestern Frontier province. Initially it was strongly suggested that a "high value target" - likely to be Zawahri - were among those who had been encircled. But that now appears unlikely, and officials say they have no idea which, if any, senior al-Qa'ida commander is there.

The tape, if genuine, is intended to demonstrate that Zawahri is alive and has escaped, assuming he was ever caught in the pocket in the first place.

It also aims at kindling more domestic opposition to President Musharraf, who survived two assassination attempts by Islamic militants in December last year.

The US has deployed 2,000 marines with special operations training on navy ships in the Gulf, poised for use in Afghanistan, where the hunt for al-Qa'ida and Taliban fugitives is intensifying.

They are likely to be used in a new spring offensive to try and capture Bin Laden and his remaining followers. They are believed to be hiding in mountain territory along the Afghan-Pakistani border, where the Islamabad government's writ runs barely, if at all.

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