CAIRO, Egypt – Al Qaeda's No. 2 leader paid tribute to the slain Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a video Friday, extolling him as "the prince of martyrs" despite the rocky relationship that the terrorist leader in Iraq had with the Al Qaeda command.
The video, aired on the Qatari-based TV channel Al-Jazeera, was the first acknowledgment by Al Qaeda's central leadership of the death of Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike northeast of Baghdad on June 7.
The clip showed Al Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, wearing a white robe and black turban, speaking to the camera with a picture of a smiling Zarqawi over his left shoulder.
Zarqawi was "a soldier, a hero, an iman (Islamic cleric) and the prince of martyrs," Zawahiri said.
His death would not set back the insurgency in Iraq, he said. In fact "the death of Zarqawi has defined the struggle between the crusaders and Islam in Iraq."
Zawahiri did not mention the successor to Zarqawi, which Al Qaeda in Iraq has named as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer. The omission might mean the tape was recorded before the successor was chosen, or it might indicate that Zawahiri does not endorse the new leader.
Zawahiri, who is believed to be hiding in the mountains on the Pakistani-Afghan border, used the tape to deliver one of his customary attacks on the United States and President George W. Bush.
"Listen you, Bush, not one of us is killed without us taking revenge for his death, god willing," Zawahiri said.
Addressing Americans, he said: "You are not facing individuals but the whole of the Muslim nation."
"America will not (sleep) dream in security until security has become a reality in Palestine and the other Muslim countries," Zawahiri said.
He attacked the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan.
Khalilzad is "an Afghani renegade who has abandoned his religion, emigrated to America and bowed at the feet of the Zionists," Zawahiri said.
Zawahiri and his colleagues had clearly taken pains to make the video into a memorial to Zarqawi. Normally Zawahiri normally appears on video against a plain background with no feature other than an automatic rifle.
In Friday's tape, however, the background was a mournful mixture of blacks and dark reds, dominated by the photo of Zarqawi. Whereas Zarqawi photographs often show a stern, if not threatening face, the picture chosen for the video showed a happy, a likeable person, who was probably laughing at a joke. Just a glimpse of Zawahiri's rifle was visible at the extreme left of the background.
During his leadership of Al Qaeda's Iraqi branch, Zarqawi swore allegiance to Usama bin Laden, the network's overall leader, but often had tense relations with him and Zawahiri.
In July 2005, Zawahiri reportedly wrote a letter to Zarqawi criticising his attacks on Iraqi Shiite mosques and civilians, saying they hurt the mujahedeen's image. The Al Qaeda deputy also asked Zarqawi for money, according to the U.S. military, which said it intercepted the message.
Zarqawi, who had outlined his strategy to spark a Sunni-Shiite civil war in a 2004 message to Al Qaeda's leadership, continued his attacks on Shiites, apparently brushing off the criticism.
But the tension appeared to have been resolved by 2006 because this year Zawahiri issued two videotapes in which he effusively praised Zarqawi. The second one appeared a day after the militant's death, but it had been recorded beforhand.