Osama bin Laden has launched his strongest appeal to fellow Muslims to join his holy war against the West since the US strikes on Afghanistan, denouncing those who support Washington as traitors to Islam.
"Rise in support of your religion. Islam is calling you," said bin Laden, the US' prime suspect for the Sept. 11 hijack attacks on New York and Washington.
Appearing in a new videotaped statement, the Saudi-born militant sought to convince Muslims that it was their duty to side with him against what he called a Christian "crusade" led by US President George W. Bush against Islam.
"This war is primarily a religious war," he said.
Clad in a traditional head-dress and a military camouflage jacket with an AK-47 assault rifle propped at his side, America's most wanted man made several references to the Koran as he appealed to the world's 1.2 billion Muslims.
He appeared in footage broadcast by the Arabic satellite channel al-Jazeera on Saturday. It was his second televised statement since Sept. 11.
Bin Laden appeared pale and became emotional near the end of his statement. It was not clear when it was recorded.
Aside from seeking to tap the emotions of Muslims already angry about Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, bin Laden also appeared to time his appeals to the onset later this month of the fasting month of Ramadan, Islam's holiest season.
His comments were laced with Koranic verses and the sayings of Mohammed, his clearest effort since the September attacks to strictly define the Afghanistan conflict in religious terms.
He warned Muslims that backing the "infidel" Christians and Jews amounted to apostasy, the betrayal of the faith, which is punishable by death in Islam.
"These vibrant masses from the far east to the far west are not moving for Osama, they are moving for their religion because they know they are right and resisting the strongest, most vicious and most dangerous crusade against Islam."
He also denounced UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a criminal, an apparent attempt to persuade Muslims they could trust only their faith, not a global organization he blamed for the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
White House spokeswoman Anne Womack dismissed bin Laden's remarks as an act of desperation. "This is more propaganda that shows how isolated bin Laden is from the rest of the world," she said.
The head of the 22-nation Arab League yesterday dismissed bin Laden's appeal, saying the Saudi militant did not speak for the world's Arabs and Muslims.
Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country, also rejected the appeal, saying the world was united against bin Laden.
"There is a war between bin Laden and the whole world," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher said ahead of a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Syria.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, himself Egyptian foreign minister before taking up the Arab League post earlier this year, echoed Maher's comments, saying: "Bin Laden doesn't speak in the name of Arabs and Muslims."
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