CAIRO – Al Qaeda's chief Usama bin Laden denounced Somalia's new president, who was elected as part of a peace push in the lawless African country, and urged in a new audio recording Thursday on the Internet for Somali militants to topple him.
The 11-and-a half minute recording was released by Al Qaeda's media arm As-Sahab and posted on militant Web sites known as clearing houses for Islamic messaging.
Focused entirely on Somalia and entitled "Fight on, champions of Somalia," it carried an often seen bin Laden photograph with a map of Somalia in the background. The Arabic audio had English subtitles.
In the message, bin Laden lashed out at the country's new president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, elected by Somali lawmakers on Jan. 31.
The moderate Somali Islamist, who earlier was a top leader of the country's Islamic Courts, replaced a predecessor who resigned in December citing failure to end the Islamic insurgency.
Ahmed's election, bin Laden claimed, was "induced by the American envoy in Kenya," a reference to the U.S. ambassador in Nairobi.
Ahmed "changed and turned back on his heels ... to partner up with the infidel" in a national unity government, bin Laden said. "How can intelligent people believe that yesterday's enemies on the basis of religion can become today's friends? This can only happen if one of the two parties abandons his religion."
In the recording, bin Laden also tells Islamic fighters in Somalia that Ahmed "must be dethroned and fought" and says the militants' are obliged to "continue fighting the apostate government."
Somalia, a nation of about 8 million people, has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other.
It has several Islamic groups that have fought for the past two years Ethiopian troops deployed to enforce the weak U.N.-backed government in Somalia.
But as part of an elaborate U.N.-brokered deal to bring onboard moderate Islamists and dissident lawmakers, Ethiopian troops withdrew in January.
Ahmed enjoys the support of several Islamic groups, pleased that he is working to implement Sharia law in Somalia — so it's unclear if any of them will heed bin Laden's call.
Bin Laden's message was likely an backing of the extremist Somali Islamic al-Shabab group which is opposed to an African Union peacekeeping force that guards key government installations.
In Feb. 2008, the U.S. State Department added al-Shabab, which means "the Youth," to its list of foreign terrorist organizations because it is believed affiliated with Al Qaeda.