Muslim Love of Kidnapping
Iraq Qaeda seeks Western hostages to free cleric
By Ghaida Ghantous
DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq called for the kidnapping of Westerners to swap for a Muslim cleric jailed in the United States, according to an Internet audio tape issued on Thursday.
The speaker, identified as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, said more than 4,000 foreign fighters have been killed in Iraq while fighting U.S.-led forces and the Baghdad government.
He urged militants to step up their jihad, or holy war, in Iraq during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which ends in the last week of October.
"I call on every holy fighter in Iraq to strive during this holy month (Ramadan)... to capture some dogs of the Christians so that we can liberate our imprisoned sheik," he said.
The speaker accused U.S. jailers of "torturing" Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was found guilty in 1995 of conspiracy to attack U.S. targets including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.
The tape's authenticity could not be verified but it was posted on major Web sites used by militants.
The speaker urged Iraqi scientists to aid militants by providing "unconventional bombs such as biological and dirty bombs" to be used in attacks on U.S. military sites in Iraq.
Al Qaeda has killed a number of foreign hostages, some by beheading. It is one of the main insurgent groups in Iraq and has claimed responsibility for some of the bloodiest attacks.
"More than 4,000 muhajir (foreign fighter) and many more of the supporters of righteousness (Iraqi fighters) have given their blood to Iraq," said the speaker on the tape.
The U.S.-backed Iraqi government blames insurgents loyal to toppled President Saddam Hussein as well as foreign fighters from several Arab countries for a bloody guerrilla campaign of suicide bombings, shootings, kidnappings and beheadings.
Muhajir, an Egyptian also known as Abu Ayub al-Masri, issued an audiotape at the beginning of September urging followers to kill Americans -- a factor U.S. commanders in Iraq believe contributed to an increase in attacks on their troops.
U.S. officials have said Muhajir's public exhortations may reflect disruption to al Qaeda's internal communications network following the killing of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and arrests of other leaders.
Muhajir, who became al Qaeda leader in Iraq after Zarqawi's killing in June, offered an amnesty to Iraqis who had cooperated with U.S.-led forces or fled the country, if they repented.
"As for those who supported the occupiers and their agents, becoming their eyes and ears, and who betrayed their religion, honor and land for material or social gains...I declare a general amnesty during this month of generosity and forgiveness," the speaker on the tape said.
It was not clear if the amnesty extended only to fellow Sunni Muslims or also to Shi'ites, who al Qaeda denounces as enemies of Islam. The U.S. military says al Qaeda is a "prime instigator" of violence between Iraq's Sunni minority and Shi'ite majority.
A U.S. intelligence official in Washington said U.S. authorities had expected a Ramadan message from the group.
"They wanted to get something out to continue shoring up their position, to show al Qaeda's still engaged and leading this after Zarqawi's death," he added.
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