Bin Laden video praises Al-Zarqawi as 'lion of holy war'

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The Independent Online

The 19-minute message shows an old still photo of bin Laden in a split-screen next to images of al-Zarqawi taken from a previous video. A voice resembling bin Laden's narrates a tribute to the Jordanian-born militant, who was killed in a 7 June air strike north east of Baghdad.

"Our Islamic nation was surprised to find its knight, the lion of jihad (holy war), the man of determination and will, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed in a shameful American raid," bin Laden said.

It was the fourth message put out this year by al-Qa'ida leader bin Laden. All have featured his voice in audiotapes. New video images of him have not appeared since October 2004.

The authenticity of the video could not be immediately confirmed. It bore the logo of As-Sahab, the al Qaida production branch that releases all its messages, and was posted on an Islamic web forum where militants often post messages. Typically, the CIA does a technical analysis to determine whether the speaker is who the tape claims and the National Counterterrorism Centre analyses the message's contents.

In the tape, bin Laden's voice sounded breathy and fatigued at times.

"Even if we lost one of our greatest knights and and princes, we are happy that we have found a symbol for our great Islamic nations, one that the mujahedeen will remember and praise in poetry and in stories secretly and aloud," bin Laden said.

A similar video tribute was released a week ago by bin Laden's deputy, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri, who did appear personally in the video, shown speaking to the camera.

The videos appear to be part of an attempt by al Qaida's central leadership to tout their connection to al-Zarqawi, who emerged as a hero among Islamic extremists with his dramatic attacks against Shiites and Westerners in Iraq.

Al-Zarqawi swore loyalty to bin Laden but is believed to have had sometimes rocky ties with al Qaida's core leadership, based in the Afghan-Pakistani border region.

In July 2005, bin Laden's deputy reportedly wrote a letter to al-Zarqawi criticising his attacks on Iraqi Shiite mosques and civilians, saying they hurt the mujahedeen's image. The al Qaida deputy also asked al-Zarqawi for money, according to the US military, which said it intercepted the message.

Al-Zarqawi apparently brushed off the criticism as he continued to attack Shiites, a strategy intended to spark a Sunni-Shiite civil war.

Any tension between al-Zarqawi and al Qaida's command appeared to have faded by early 2006, because al-Zawahri has now issued three videotapes this year in which he effusively praises al-Zarqawi.