Ben Laden warns US, Shiites

DUBAI (Reuters) —  A purported audiotape by Al Qaeda leader Osama Ben Laden warned Iraq’s Shiite majority on Saturday of retaliation over attacks on Sunni Arabs and that his group would fight the United States anywhere in the world.

Ben Laden, making his second Internet broadcast in two days and one of his strongest comments on sectarian divisions in Iraq, also warned the world community to stay out of Somalia, where Islamists have fought their way to power in Mogadishu.

“We will fight [US] soldiers on the land of Somalia… and we reserve the right to punish it on its land and anywhere possible,” said the speaker on the tape, sounding like the Saudi-born militant. No immediate independent verification of the voice was immediately available but the tape was posted on an Internet site used by Islamists.

Ben Laden, a Sunni, said the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq was being annihilated.

“It is not possible that many of [the Shiites] violate, alongside America and its allies, [the Sunni cities of] Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul…. [and] that their areas would be safe from retaliation and harm,” he said.

Endorsement

Ben Laden said he endorsed Abu Hamza Muhajir, also believed to have the name of Abu Ayyub Masri, as the new leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq group after the killing of Abu Mussab Zarqawi in a US air strike on June 7.

The United States has often accused Al Qaeda of stoking tensions between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq to try to trigger a civil war. It has put a $5 million bounty on the head of Zarqawi’s successor.

On Somalia, Ben Laden said: “We warn all of the countries in the world not to respond to America by sending international troops to Somalia.” Another purported Ben Laden tape on Friday praised Zarqawi and echoed Saturday’s broadcast by vowing that Al Qaeda would fight US forces and their allies everywhere.

A US counter-terrorism official, who declined to be named, said analysis of the recording confirmed it was “the voice of Osama Ben Laden”.

Saturday’s broadcast was Ben Laden’s fifth in 2006.

Ben Laden, widely considered the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, has eluded US forces who have been hunting for him and former Taleban leader Mullah Omar in Afghanistan.

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