Taliban leader mocks Bush

Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahiri has mocked President George W. Bush’s plan to send extra troops to Iraq, saying he should send his entire army to be annihilated.

In an online video message, the Al-Qaeda second-in-command also accused the United States of being behind the deployment of Ethiopian troops in Somalia and vowed that Islamist forces would “break the back” of the Ethiopians.

“In his latest speech, Bush said in his ramblings that he would send 20,000 of his soldiers to Iraq. I ask him: why send only 20,000 soldiers? Why don’t you send 50,000 or 100,000?” Zawahiri said in the 15-minute recording.

“Don’t you know that the dogs of Iraq are impatient to devour the carcasses of your soldiers?” taunted Zawahiri, regarded as the ideological powerhouse of Al-Qaeda who carries a 25-million dollar US bounty on his head.

“On the contrary, you must send your entire army to be annihilated at the hands of the mujahedeen so that the whole world will be rid of your wickedness.”

Bush, facing mounting criticism of the nearly four-year war in Iraq, announced on January 10 that he would send an additional 21,500 troops in a bid to quell deadly sectarian violence in the war-wracked country.

The US president has waged an aggressive public relations campaign over the past week to warn against pulling out of Iraq hastily, and Iraq is expected to be the focus of his annual State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

But US forces have suffered heavy casualties in Iraq this month, with 49 dead including 12 troops killed in a helicopter crash which the Iraqi branch of Al-Qaeda claimed in an Internet statement Monday.

Zawahiri repeatedly poked fun at Bush’s plan for Iraq, as well as the US-led mission to rid Afghanistan of remnants of the extremist Taliban movement.

“Iraq, the country of the caliphate and of jihad, is capable of being a tomb for 10 of your armies,” the Egyptian-born surgeon said in the video, wearing his trademark white turban and black cloak.

“It is Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, led by the emir of the believers, Mullah Mohammed Omar (may God save him), who have deprived the Americans of a safe haven in Afghanistan.

“Security must be shared: if we are safe, you will be too… If we are hit and killed, you will inescapably be hit and killed,” the Al-Qaeda official said.

“Today, the duty of every Muslim is to bear arms or to support and serve those who bear the arms.”

Zawahiri also lashed out at Bush over the conflict in Somalia, saying Islamist fighters would “break the back” of Ethiopian forces backing government troops in the Horn of Africa nation.

“I announce the good news to Bush: he has bogged down his Ethiopian slaves in a real disaster in Somalia. The mujahedeen will break their back,” Zawahiri said.

“The Americans, who encouraged them on to their ruin and are giving them orders from afar so that they die in their place, will not even shed tears for them.”

Unlike bin Laden, Zawahiri frequently speaks for Al-Qaeda in video or audiotapes although his whereabouts are unknown.

He is listed on the US government’s indictment for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and he was sentenced to death in absentia by an Egyptian court a year later.

In a previous message put online on January 5, Zawahiri called on the Somali Islamists to be inspired by guerrilla actions in Iraq and Afghanistan to fight the Ethiopian forces in Somalia.

The Pentagon said last week that US operations in Somalia would continue until key Al-Qaeda targets were eliminated.

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse