CAIRO, Egypt – Al Qaeda video messages of Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri can now be downloaded to cell phones, the terror network announced as part of its attempts to extend its influence.
The announcement was posted late Friday by Al Qaeda's media wing, al-Sahab, on Web sites commonly used by Islamic militants. As of Saturday, eight previously recorded videos were made available including a recent tribute to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former Al Qaeda in Iraq leader killed by U.S. forces in Iraq in June 2006.
In a written message introducing the cell phone videos, al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's No. 2 figure, asked followers to spread the terror group's messages.
"I asked God for the men of jihadi media to spread the message of Islam and monotheism to the world and spread real awareness to the people of the nations," al-Zawahiri said.
Videos playable on cell phones are increasingly popular in the Middle East. The files are transferred from phone to phone using Bluetooth or infrared wireless technology.
Clips showing former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's execution in December 2006 showed up on cell phones soon after his death. In Egypt, images showing police brutality have been passed around via cell phones including one video that showed an arrested bus driver being sodomized with a stick by police in the fall 2006.
Video and audio tapes from various Islamist groups including Al Qaeda are available on militant Web sites but require a computer and a fast Internet connection — often rare in the region — to download.
But the eight videos currently available to download to cell phones by al-Sahab range in size from 17 megabytes to 120 megabytes, requiring phones to have large amounts of free data capacity. Al-Sahab has promised to release more of its previous video messages in cell-phone quality formats.
The terror network has been growing more sophisticated in targeting international audiences. Videos are always subtitled in English, and messages this year from bin Laden and al-Zawahiri focusing on Pakistan and Afghanistan have been dubbed in the local languages, Urdu and Pashtu.
In December, Al Qaeda invited journalists to send questions to al-Zawahiri. The invitation was the first time the media-savvy al-Qaida offered outsiders to "interview" one of its leaders since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.