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'Month Of Holy War' Encouraged In Iraq

The new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq said in an audiotape posted on the Internet Thursday that more than 4,000 foreign insurgent fighters have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

"The blood has been spilled in Iraq of more than 4,000 foreigners who came to fight," said the man, who identified himself as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir - also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri - the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, though the voice could not be independently identified.

The Arabic word he used indicated he was speaking about foreigners who joined the insurgency in Iraq, not coalition troops.

He also told Muslims on the recording that their holy month should be turned into what he calls a "month of holy war."

Ramadan began last weekend across the Muslim world.

Al-Masri appealed directly to insurgents in Iraq, urging them to take Westerners prisoner.

"I appeal to every holy warrior in the land of Iraq to exert all efforts in this holy month so that God may enable us to capture some of the Western dogs to swap them with our sheik and get him out of his dark prison," the voice said.

He was referring to the blind Egyptian sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, imprisoned in the United States since 1995 for conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks.

Al-Masri is believed to have succeeded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who died in a U.S. airstrike north of Baghdad in June.

CBS News translator Khaled Wassef, whose job entails the constant monitoring of a plethora of Web sites where militants frequently post text, audio and video detailing their global operations, said the claim of 4,000 dead fighters is more important in symbolism than in quantity.

Wassef explained that al Qaeda in Iraq was likely demonstrating their ability to draw small armies of fighters from around the Muslim world into Iraq to wage Jihad against the coalition forces, and furthermore, the apparent ease with which those fighters can enter the country.

The new audiotape was only the most recent evidence of how militant groups have eagerly embraced the Internet as a tool. Wassef said that from the postings he sees on a daily basis, it is clear that the groups are using the Web as a primary means of "recruiting, financing, and publicizing," their fights.

In other developments:

  • Bombings and shootings killed at least 21 people in and around Baghdad while police reported finding 40 bodies, a sign of the unabated sectarian violence raging during Ramadan around many parts the Iraqi capital. The killings comes amid reports from a number of senior coalition military officials that a large and powerful militia run by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has been breaking apart into freelance death squads and gangs - some of which are being influenced by Iran. Al-Sadr's Mahdi army is one of the largest and most powerful militias in Iraq, along with the Badr Brigades - which were once the military wing of Iraq's largest Shiite political group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
  • Iraq's Central Criminal Court said Thursday it had convicted 22 suspected insurgents of a range of crimes, including weapons violations and illegally entering the country. The defendants were convicted in proceedings from Sept. 8 to Sept. 14, and sentences ranged from one year in prison to 15 years, the court said. Those convicted of passport violations and entering the country illegally included men from Syria, Yemen and France. A Lebanese man, Muhammed Ahmad Salah, also admitted coming to Iraq to fight coalition forces, the court said. An Iraqi man, Abdul-Elwareth Al-Said Abdul-Elwareth Al-Maghrabi, was sentenced to 10 years on illegal weapons violations. The court said he was found in possession of weapons including 28 rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) warheads, five SKS machine guns, three AKS assault rifles, 10,000 AK-47 rounds, and 400 14.5 mm anti-aircraft rounds.
  • Iraq's most important moneymaker - its oil industry - lost $16 billion in two years to insurgent attacks, criminals and bad equipment, a secret U.S. Audit says. The Baghdad government "must take bold action" to protect its oil and electrical facilities, concludes an unclassified summary of the classified audit. "Iraq cannot prosper without uninterrupted export of oil and the reliable delivery of electricity," Stuart W. Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, said in the summary released Thursday.
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