Pakistan has condemned as malicious and baseless a taped message said to be from a senior member of the al-Qaida terror network, calling for the overthrow of the government of President Pervez Musharraf, a close U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.
The Arab satellite television network Al-Jazeera aired the voice message on Thursday, saying it was the voice of al-Qaida's number-two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The taped message condemns Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as a traitor working for the United States. It urges the people of Pakistan to dislodge the president.
Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan says authorities are still checking the authenticity of the voice on the tape, but he vigorously attacked its message, whatever the source.
"But we reject its contents and its malicious and baseless accusations against the president [Musharraf] and the armed forces of Pakistan," he said. "These people have no constituency or legitimacy. Their distorted and twisted ideology has nothing to do with Islam. We would not be deterred or intimidated by these cowardly threats."
A CIA spokesman says the agency, after conducting a technical analysis of the tape, believes the voice is probably that of Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The taped message was aired as thousands of Pakistani troops are engaged in a battle with a large group of suspected al-Qaida terrorists in a remote mountainous region near the Afghan border, known as South Waziristan.
At the start of the operation, Pakistan authorities had suggested that the Egyptian-born al-Qaida leader might be among the militants. But those claims have yet to be verified because the heavily armed fighters supported by local tribesmen have refused to surrender. More than 50 suspected terrorists and a significant number of Pakistan troops have died in the clashes.