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New Purported Bin Laden Tape Aired on Al-Jazeera

A new audio tape attributed to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has been broadcast on the satellite network al-Jazeera. In the recording, he accuses the West of waging a war against Islam.

The man speaking on the audio tape says the conflict in Darfur and the cutting off of aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government are evidence the West is waging what he called "a Crusader-Zionist war" against Muslims.

A Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, was quick to distance the group from the voice on the tape. He said Hamas has its own positions, which are different to the ones expressed by bin Laden.

The al-Jazeera tape also said average Westerners are complicit in the actions of their governments, a statement seen as an attempt to justify terrorist attacks targeting civilians.

The voice on the tape sounds like bin Laden's, but the recording has not been authenticated.

He says, "I call on the Mujahedin and their supporters in Sudan and ... the Arab Peninsula to prepare for a long war against the thieving Crusaders in western Sudan."

He also says his goal is to defend Islam, not the Sudanese government.

The conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan is between government-backed militias who consider themselves Arab, and local villagers who consider themselves African. Both sides are Muslim.

The Saudi-born Bin Laden lived in Sudan for several years in the 1990s as the guest of Sudan's Islamist government, which evicted him in 1996 under international pressure.

Bin Laden is believed to be hiding somewhere near the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was last heard from in January. Before that, there had been no audio or video messages from the al-Qaida leader in more than a year, with most of the group's pronouncements coming from his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Analysts believe that part of the point of this new recording is to prove he is alive and well, despite attempts to kill or capture him.

Mohamed Salah, the Cairo bureau chief of the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat, and a noted expert on Islamic extremist groups, says, "This is like a challenge". And, he says, the issues that Osama Bin Laden discusses indicate that he is informed about what is going on, despite his isolation and efforts to catch him.

Regional security analysts are also saying that this message is an attempt to rally his supporters.

Salah says bin Laden talks about issues that inspire emotional, nationalist responses in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Some analysts say the tape is also intended to counter a growing Arab animosity toward al-Qaida, which has grown since last December when the leader of the al-Qaida in Iraq group claimed responsibility for bombings of Jordan hotels that killed many Arabs.

Al-Jazeera played only a few brief excerpts from the audio tape. In portions that were not aired, the network said Bin Laden weighed in on the conflict in Chechnya, on King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and on liberal Arab writers.