DUBAI (AFP) – Al-Qaeda on Thursday named its second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri to succeed slain chief Osama bin Laden and vowed to relentlessly pursue its “jihad’ against the United States and Israel.
“The general command of Al-Qaeda announces, after consultations, the appointment of Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri as head of the group,” the jihadist network said in statement posted on an Islamist website.
Egyptian Zawahiri, the group’s long-time number two, succeeds bin Laden who was killed by US commandos in a May 2 raid in Pakistan.
The statement said that under Zawahiri’s leadership Al-Qaeda would relentlessly pursue its ‘jihad’ (holy war) against the United States and Israel.
“We seek with the aid of God to call for the religion of truth and incite our nation to fight … by carrying out jihad against the apostate invaders … with their head being crusader America and its servant Israel, and whoever supports them,” said the statement.
The fight would continue “until all invading armies leave the land of Islam.”
The extremist network affirmed that it would not “recognise any legitimacy of the so-called State of Israel.”
“We will not accept or adhere to any agreement or accord that recognises it (Israel) or that robs a mile from Palestine, whether it is the United Nations controlled by top criminals or any other organisation.”
Al-Qaeda also voiced its “support (to) the uprisings of our oppressed Muslim people against the corrupt and tyrant leaders who have made our nation suffer in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya Yemen, Syria and Morocco.”
A wave of revolts that have rocked the Middle East and North Africa since December have succeeded in toppling autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia while others, such as Libya’s Moamer Kadhafi and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad are still battling uprisings in their countries.
Al-Qaeda urged those involved in the uprisings to continue their “struggle until the fall of all corrupt regimes that the West has forced onto our countries.”
The extremist Sunni group made no mention of the Shiite-led uprising in the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, crushed in mid-March by the ruling Western-allied Sunni minority which was backed by joint Gulf Arab forces.
In the last part of the statement however, the network reminds that “our religion has forbidden oppression, against Muslims and non-Muslims, against friend and foe.”
“Therefore, we assure every oppressed human in this world — most of whom are the victims of Western and American crimes — that our religion is that of justice and equality,” it said.
Like his slain Saudi-born co-conspirator, the 59-year-old surgeon Zawahiri has been hiding ever since the United States declared its war on terror after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Zawahiri, now the United State’s most wanted man, was jailed for three years in Egypt for militancy and was implicated in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981, and a 1997 massacre of tourists in Luxor.
Facing a death sentence, he left Egypt in the mid-1980s initially for Saudi Arabia, but soon headed for Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar where the resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was based, and then to Afghanistan, where he joined forces with bin Laden.
Zawahiri, gifted with brains but bereft of bin Laden’s potent charisma, has long been seen as the mastermind behind the global terror franchise.
From hiding, he has issued video missives calling for war on the West. The most recent was a filmed eulogy to bin Laden, vowing to pursue jihad in a tape reported by the SITE Intelligence Group on June 8.
It was a message of loyalty to bin Laden, whom analysts believe alone had the charisma capable of uniting an increasingly disparate group divided between Egyptians and non-Egyptian Arabs.
The eulogy came nearly a month after a Saudi newspaper reported on May 5 that as the struggle for power simmered within the network, Zawahiri led US troops to bin Laden through his courier.
Al-Watan newspaper, quoting an unnamed “regional source,” had said the top two Al-Qaeda men had differences and that the courier was a Pakistani national who knew he was being followed by the US military but disguised the fact.
With the return of an Egyptian figure in Al-Qaeda, Saif al-Adel, last autumn from Iran, the Egyptian faction had hatched a plan to dispose of Saudi-born bin Laden, according to Al-Watan.
It said Zawahiri’s faction had persuaded bin Laden to leave tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistan border and take shelter instead in Abbottabad near Islamabad where he was finally unearthed and shot dead by elite US Navy SEALs.