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March 25, 2004

Zawahiri Tape Calls For Coup, Targets Pakistan's Weak Points

By J.M. Berger

Ayman al Zawarhiri (alt. spelling: Zawahri), al Qaeda's top leader after Osama bin Laden, has called for a military coup and popular revolt in Pakistan.

INTELWIRE ExclusivesThe new audiotape message, judged authentic by the CIA, calls for a popular revolution in the South Asian nation, as well as specifically addressing the military. The tape refers to Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf as a "Muslim assassin."

The timing of the message suggests retaliation for Musharraf's recent aggressive attack on tribes populating the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Pakistani officials claimed last week that they had Zawahiri cornered in heavy combat but suggested earlier this week that the "high-value" target they sought had escaped through a secret tunnel.

Pakistan has been deeply divided over the high-casualty assault, which has faced both political and grass roots opposition.

Musharraf has been the subject of two assassination attempts within the last year. Security was tightened in the capitol city after the audiotape was broadcast on Aljazeerah pan-Arabic television. There are three points of immediate and major concern in the message.

  • The message specifically calls on tribal factions to revolt. These factions have already been severely incited during last week's fighting and may only need a spark to set off the tinderbox.

  • The message specifically addresses the military, chiding army officials for last week's offensive. Pakistani forces may be severely demoralized after taking heavy casualties last week during a battle in which they possessed an overwhelming numerical advantage. The assault was alsoa high-profile failure since it let the "high-value" target escape. It's difficult to estimate how much influence Islamic radicals may have on the military, whose officers are mostly Muslim. An Army spokesman dismissed Zawahiri's exhortation as "absurd."

  • Since the tape comes from Zawahiri, there is a not-too-subtle message being conveyed about the effectiveness of Pakistan's efforts to fight al Qaeda. The boldness of such a defiant challenge only days after Zawahiri was supposedly "as good as caught" will be extremely effective at creating enthusiasm among grass roots Islamists in Pakistan.

    Updated: 3/26

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