Al-Qaida second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri urged the Pope and Christians to convert to Islam in response to comments Benedict XVI made on Islam, and called U.S. President George W. Bush a failure and a liar in the war on terror, according to a video released Friday.
"If Benedict attacked us, we will respond to his insults with good things. We will call upon him, and all of the Christians to become Muslims who do not recognize the Trinity or the crucifixion," al-Zawahri said, according to the Washington-based Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Institute.
Al-Zawahri also called a UN resolution to send peacekeepers into Sudan's war-torn Darfur region a "Crusader plan" and implored the Muslims of Darfur to defend themselves.
"Do not allow the government of Khartoum to interfere, nor the governments of the Western Crusaders to interfere in your business. Be ready to stop the Crusaders campaign against you," he said.
The nearly 18-minute statement, titled "Bush, the Pope, Darfur and the Crusades," was produced by Al-Qaida's media arm, as-Sahab.
Al-Zawahri also condemned the leadership of President Bush. "Can't you be honest at least once in your life, and admit that you are a deceitful liar who intentionally deceived your nation when you drove them to war in Iraq," al-Zawahri said.
He also criticized Bush for continuing to keep Al-Qaida leaders in prisons, including al-Qaida Number 3 Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged September 11 mastermind captured in Pakistan in March 2003.
"Bush, you deceitful charlatan, three years have passed since your capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, so how have you found us during this time? Losing and surrendering?" he said.
"What you have perpetrated against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other Muslim captives in your prisons and the prisons of your slaves in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and elsewhere is not hidden from anyone, and we are a people who do not sleep under oppression and who do not abandon our revenge until our chests have been healed of those who have aggressed against us," he said.
"And we, by the grace of Allah, are seeking to exact revenge on behalf of Islam and Muslims from you and your soldiers and allies," he added.
Al-Zawahri, the deputy to Osama bin Laden, accused the United States and its agents of torturing Muslim prisoners seized across the Middle East.
"Your agents in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan have captured thousands of the youth and soldiers of Islam whom you made to taste at your hands and the hands of your agents various types of punishment and torture," al-Zawahri said.
"But we, by Allah's grace, are taking revenge on their behalf daily from your troops and the troops of your allies and agents in ... all Muslim countries from Indonesia to Morocco, and moreover, on your own soil every day."
Al-Qaida has released a string of videos earlier this month timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, showing increasingly sophisticated production techniques in a likely effort to demonstrate that it remains a powerful, confident force despite the U.S.-led war on terror.
An intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said U.S. experts view the latest video as a typical propaganda message, whose main thrust is a call for more people to join its jihad, or holy war.
It wasn't immediately clear when the message was recorded, but al-Zawahri made a reference to the Pope, indicating the message was produced sometime after Benedict's controversial comments about Islam on September 12, the official said.
In remarks that sparked outrage across the Muslim world, Benedict cited a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Mohammed as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."
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