Purported bin Laden tape endorses al-Zarqawi
Speaker also calls for boycott of Iraq's elections
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- A speaker purported to be al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden endorsed the terror campaign of insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and urged Iraqis to boycott next month's elections, in an audio tape broadcast Monday on the Arabic-language Al-Jazeera television network.
When it broadcast the tape, Al-Jazeera said the voice was bin Laden's. A CIA analysis finished Monday found that the tape appears to be authentic, a U.S. official told CNN.
If the voice is bin Laden's, the tape would mark the first time the al Qaeda leader has mentioned al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist whose group had been responsible for numerous car bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq.
Al-Zarqawi recently renamed his group from Unification and Jihad to al Qaeda in Iraq. The United States has placed a $25 million bounty on both bin Laden and al-Zarqawi.
Terrorism experts have been waiting for a sign that bin Laden wants al-Zarqawi to act on his behalf. The tape, if real, is apparent proof the two are connected.
"This confirms that Zarqawi and bin Laden have indeed been in touch with each other, that Zarqawi is now acting on behalf of bin Laden," said al Qaeda expert and CNN consultant Paul Eedle.
"It gives Zarqawi access to al Qaeda's world-wide resources in terms of money and people. But on the ground in Iraq, it doesn't change the reality immediately." (Full story)
On the tape, the speaker said, "We were very pleased by their daring operations against the Americans and Allawi's infidel government.
"We, in al Qaeda organization, welcome him joining forces with us, a great welcome and this will be a great step towards unifying the mujahedeens' efforts in establishing the nation of justice and destroying the nation of evil.
"We ask God to accept this unity and bless it and for all to know, the dear mujahed brother Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the prince of al Qaeda in Iraq, so we ask all our organization brethren to listen to him and obey him in his good deeds."
He goes on to say that Iraqis who participate in January's elections "knowing what these elections are for and they agreed, they become infidels denouncing our great God."
The U.S. intelligence official would not speculate on what effect the call to boycott the elections would have.
"I would imagine if one is going to vote, one is going to vote, regardless," the official said.
At the U.S. State Department, deputy spokesman Adam Ereli was dismissive of the tape, regardless of its authenticity.
"Whether or not it's bin Laden," he said, "it's a message from terrorists and obviously we don't think those messages hold much sway for us and that they should be seen for what they are, which is attempts by murderers to propagate their evil trade."