Al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad declare allegiance to al-Qaida
BAGHDAD, Iraq – The most feared militant group in Iraq, the movement of terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, declared its allegiance to Osama bin Laden on Sunday, saying it had agreed with al-Qaida over strategy and the need for unity against “the enemies of Islam.”
The declaration, which appeared on a Web site often used as a clearinghouse for statements by militant groups, began with a Quranic verse encouraging Muslim unity and said al-Zarqawi considered bin Laden “the best leader for Islam’s armies against all infidels and apostates.”
The statement, whose authenticity could not be independently confirmed, said the two had been in communication eight months ago and “viewpoints were exchanged” before the dialogue was interrupted.
“God soon blessed us with a resumption in communication, and the dignified brothers in al-Qaida understood the strategy of Tawhid and Jihad,” the statement said.
The Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi is suspected of about a dozen high-profile attacks in Iraq, including last year’s bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, and the beheading of numerous foreign hostages.
His relationship to bin Laden and the al-Qaida leadership has long been the subject of considerable speculation. Although many experts believe al-Zarqawi had longtime ties to al-Qaida, others suspected that al-Zarqawi considered himself a rival to bin Laden for the mantle of chief defender of the Muslim faith.
The Bush administration said it was still trying to confirm the report.
“But we’ve always said there were ties between Zarqawi and al-Qaida, which underscores once again why Iraq is the central front in the war on terror,” White House spokesman Trent Duffy said in Washington. “It’s also proof positive of why the president’s firm resolve to fight terrorists overseas so we don’t face them in America’s neighborhoods is the only clear way to prevail.”
The statement affirmed the “allegiance of Tawhid and Jihad’s leadership and soldiers to the chief of all fighters, Osama bin Laden.” It said the announcement had been timed for the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan when “Muslims need more than ever to stick together in the face of the religion’s enemies.”
“It’s good tidings for our nation … to spite the infidels and frighten the enemies of Islam.”
The statement also endorsed bin Laden’s goal to “expel the infidels from the Arabian peninsula” – a reference to American influence in the al-Qaida leader’s native Saudi Arabia, birthplace of the Islamic faith.
Al-Zarqawi’s declaration appeared two days after the U.S. government formally declared Tawhid and Jihad a terrorist organization.