| Ayman al-Zawahri
Dubai, Aug. 3 (Reuters): An audio tape purportedly from top al Qaida official Ayman al-Zawahri today warned the US it would pay a high price if it harmed detainees at a US base in Cuba, saying the “real battle” had not yet begun.
“America has announced it will start putting on trial in front of military tribunals the Muslim detainees at Guantanamo and might sentence them to death...”
“I swear in the name of God that the crusader America will pay a dear price for any harm it inflicts on any of the Muslim detainees,” said the tape broadcast by the Dubai-based Al Arabiya television.
Washington is holding more than 600 people from 42 nations at a special camp at the Guantanamo Bay naval base. US plans to try six of them in military tribunals that can hand out death sentences have sparked international criticism.
An Arabiya official said the channel believed the voice on the tape was that of Zawahri — considered to be al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man. It was not clear when the tape was made.
The speaker vowed to avenge every killing and ruling passed against Muslims detained at Guantanamo. “We tell America only one thing. What you have suffered until now is only the initial skirmishes. The real battle has not started yet...
“Let America know that if it tortures them (detainees), it will be torturing itself and if it tries them it will be trying its own sons, and if it sentences them then it will be sentencing its own people,” he said.
Zawahri has appeared at bin Laden’s side in almost every videotaped statement from the al Qaida leader since the September 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks on US cities, which killed about 3,000 people.
The speaker threatened to punish any country that hands over any Muslim suspect to Washington. “Let those who conspire with America know that America is incapable of protecting itself,” he said.
“Let every detainee be assured that their liberation is a debt that will be shouldered by every mujahid (struggler) and that their liberation day is coming soon,” the speaker said.
Zawahri is an Egyptian doctor who set up a militant group that tried to topple Egypt’s government in the 1990s.
It was the first audio tape apparently from him since May 21 when another taped message made threats against the US.
Washington blames al Qaida for the September 11 attacks.
President George W. Bush vowed on Wednesday to thwart what he said was a “real threat” of new al Qaida attacks and the homeland security department has warned the airline industry that the network was planning new suicide hijackings and bombings in the US or abroad.
The captives at Guantanamo Bay include nationals from Britain, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan but the US military has not given a precise breakdown.
The detainees, suspected members of al Qaida and others caught in what Bush calls the “war on terrorism”, have been held and interrogated without being charged. Human rights groups have criticised Washington for refusing to give the detainees the rights accorded to prisoners of war under international treaties.
Last month Washington said six suspects, including two Britons and an Australian, could face military trial. It accused them of attending “terrorist” training camps and said they may have been involved in financing al Qaida.
Bowing to pressure from Britain and Australia, Washington said later it would not seek the death penalty in any military trials held for the nationals of those two countries.