The Al Qaeda network's number two leader Ayman al-Zawahri condemned recent French measures to ban the Muslim veil in government schools in a new tape aired by Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV Tuesday morning, as the hunt for Osama bin Laden continued on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The tape was broadcast in an apparent referral to the French parliament's vote earlier this month to ban religious symbols in state schools.
An official at the Al Arabiya station, requesting anonymity, said the tape was received Tuesday, "just minutes before taking it to air." The official added the tape was not aired in its entirety, "only what was newsworthy and what we thought was new."
"This is a new indication of the Crusader hatred which Westerners harbour against Muslims while they boast of freedom, democracy and human rights," the voice, which sounded like previous audio tapes attributed to Zawahri, stated.
"France is the country of freedom which defends freedom to show one's body, and to be immoral and depraved. In France, you're free to show yourself but not to dress in a modest manner," Zawahri said.
"This is a campaign planned by the Crusader Zionists with their agents in Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia and other Islamic countries," Zawahri said.
The voice on the tape said the headscarf decision was in the context of the ongoing campaign against Islam. "Banning the headscarves in France is in line with burning villages with its inhabitants in Afghanistan, bringing houses down on the heads of sleeping Palestinians, with killing children in Iraq and robbing their oil using false pretexts ... (and) torturing them (Muslims) in the cells of Guantanamo," the tape said.
Meanwhile, Pakistani troops backed by helicopters on Tuesday swept through villages in a remote border region where Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding in an operation to capture fugitive Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects.
The searches near the town of Wana, just a few miles from the border with Afghanistan, began after dawn, as paramilitary and army troops moved into areas where the fugitives are believed to have taken refuge among local tribes. (Albawaba.com)
Tue, February 24, 2004
'Real step up' by professional terrorists: U.S.
KIRKUK, Iraq -- A suicide bomber blew up a white Oldsmobile outside a police station in this northern city yesterday, killing at least seven policemen and wounding dozens of other people. It was the fifth suicide attack in Iraq this month. The bombing occurred as U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Baghdad to check on the state of readiness of Iraq's security forces, which have born the brunt of the suicide strikes.
U.S. administrator Paul Bremer told reporters after meeting with Rumsfeld that Iraq has seen "a real step up" by "professional terrorists from al-Qaida and Ansar al-Islam in conducting suicide attacks."
Kirkuk has also seen rising ethnic tensions as Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen compete for control of the city, which is located in one of the world's richest oil-producing regions about 290 km north of Baghdad.
Yesterday's suicide bombing in Kirkuk occurred as police were changing shifts at Rahimawa station, according to the station's chief, Col. Adel Ibrahim.
'KNEW THE PROCEDURE'
"Whoever did this had been watching and knew the procedure of the policemen's shifts," said Col. Thamer Abdul-Masih.
In other developments yesterday:
- The United Nations said elections were impossible by June 30 but could be held by January 2005 if planning begins at once.
The report by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi also said tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims were "becoming entrenched and inter-communal politics more polarized."
The U.S. intends to transfer power to the Iraqis on June 30, but its plans have caused controversies on several fronts. Leaders of the country's Shiite Muslim majority demand quick elections to establish a government, and an influential cleric warned yesterday of civil war if a vote is delayed.
- U.S. officials said 17 American soldiers had been suspended pending the outcome of a probe into allegations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners. They include a battalion commander and a company commander.