Zarqawi thumbs nose at US

DUBAI (AFP) — Iraq’s most wanted man Abu Musab Al Zarqawi has thumbed his nose at the Americans, in a message attributed to him on the Internet, and played up the threat of his alliance with Osama Ben Laden.
Zarqawi said he was “lightly” wounded but still battling alongside his fighters in Iraq, in the message posted late Monday.

“This is a message from a soldier to his emir,” he said in a serious but confident voice, addressing Al Qaeda chief Osama Ben Laden who named him in December as leader of his terror network’s operations in Iraq.

While the insurgency battles on despite joint US-Iraqi operations aimed at its destruction, Zarqawi appears to have taken the battle back to the frontlines of the propaganda war.

“The latest message looks more like propaganda,” said Dhia Rashwan, an Arab expert in Islamist groups. “Zarqawi and Ben Laden turn to each other whenever they feel in difficulty.”

Zarqawi, with the United States trying to close the net, has “turned to the strategic potential of Ben Laden to scare the Americans.”

As for last week’s Internet announcement by his group that Zarqawi had been wounded, that “could have been a ploy to cover up his movements in Iraq,” according to Rashwan.

“In any case, the announcement was a tactical coup because it showed that the enemy has no specific information on him,” he said.

The chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Richard Myers, said Sunday that Zarqawi had probably been wounded but the American military did not know where he was or if his injuries were serious.

Asked by CBS whether Zarqawi was still in Iraq, Myers said: “We don’t know that.”

A Saudi journalist specialised in Al Qaeda affairs, Fares Ben Hizam, said that Zarqawi, “whose injury could be serious despite the effort he made in the latest message,” was issuing a call for new volunteers among Al Qaeda ranks.

A double suicide attack killed at least 25 people south of Baghdad on Monday as insurgents struck back against a massive operation by Iraq to try to restore security in the capital.

Zarqawi’s group said its attack was a reply to the “aborted encirclement plan in Baghdad,” a reference to the Iraqi security net that was launched the same day.

Insurgent attacks nationwide killed a total of around 700 people in May, following the swearing-in of Iraq’s first democratically elected post-Saddam Hussein government.

Ben Hizam said the latest voice message also contained a “coded” operational message to Ben Laden, who like the equally elusive Zarqawi has a $25 million US bounty on his head.

“I think (this) drawn up plan has reached you or is in the process of being delivered,” said Zarqawi, who signed off his message to Ben Laden with the words, “your little brother.”

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