Fri, Jul 29, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Al-Qaeda leader praises Syrian protesters

AP, CAIRO

Al-Qaeda’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, praised protesters seeking to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while trying to portray the uprising as an Islamic battle against US and Israeli interests.

The video message posted on extremist Web sites yesterday is al-Zawahri’s first since al-Qaeda named him its new leader last month following the death of Osama bin Laden in a US commando raid in Pakistan.

The Egyptian-born al-Zawahri, who long served as bin Laden’s top deputy, directly addressed the Syrian protesters who have risen up against Assad’s rule despite a bloody government crackdown.

The message appeared to be an attempt to place al-Qaeda firmly on the side of the anti-government demonstrators.

“You are an example, explaining lessons to your Arab and Muslim nation in sacrifice, steadfastness and the struggle against oppression,” al-Zawahri said of the protesters. “How could you not? You are the sons of the Levant, the front for jihad and martyrdom.”

In the past, al-Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden himself in a video released after his death, have sought to associate themselves with the uprisings sweeping the Arab world this year, offering guidance on how the protests should be led to serve al-Qaeda’s extremist version of Islam.

Many experts, however, think the uprisings have shown how out of touch the terror group has become with the aspirations of Arab youth who have been the uprising’s main activists. Most seek greater freedom from dictatorial regimes, not the Islamic rule al-Qaeda advocates.

And in Syria, activists have said religion has played little role in their uprising to topple Assad.

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