DUBAI, Mar 19 – Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden called on radical Islamists in Somalia to overthrow new President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, according to an audiotape posted on the Internet on Thursday.,
Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, was elected president of the war-ravaged African state in January following UN-brokered reconciliation talks but faces a tough task to bring peace to a country wracked by civil war since 1991.
"This Sheikh Sharif… must be fought and toppled," bin Laden said in a message addressed to the "champions of Somalia," the third audiotape attributed to bin Laden that has been broadcast this year.
"He is like the (Arab) presidents who are in the pay of our enemies," he said in the tape, whose authenticity could not be immediately confirmed.
Somalia has had no effective central authority since the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre touched off a bloody cycle of clashes between rival factions.
Bin Laden said Ahmed has "changed and turned on his heels" as a result of American "enticements", and agreed to mix Islamic sharia law with civic laws in the troubled Horn of Africa country.
"My Muslim brothers in Somalia: you must beware of the initiatives which wear the dress of Islam," he said.
The Somali cabinet agreed on Tuesday to introduce Islamic law, a move Ahmed said was "to ensure that he who claims that he is fighting to have sharia no longer has a reason to fight."
Islamist fighters including the hardline Shebab militia have waged battles against the government and its allies since and before Ahmed came to power, vowing to fight until all foreign forces withdraw and sharia law is imposed.
The Shebab is a hardline Islamist organisation opposed to Ahmed’s national unity government and which controls large swathes of Somalia.
It re-took several towns in southern and central Somalia in battles against the Ethiopia-backed Somali troops who ousted their movement in early 2007. Ethiopian forces pulled out of Somalia in January, ending an ill-fated two-year intervention.
Thursday’s message from bin Laden — who has a 25 million dollar US bounty on his head — was given in an 11-minute video issued by Al-Qaeda’s media arm which contains only the voice of the Al-Qaeda chief.
In the previous bin Laden recording on Saturday, the terrorist mastermind accused some Arab leaders of being "complicit" with Israel and the West against Muslims and urged holy war to liberate the Palestinian territories.
He issued a similar call in a tape issued in January just days before US President Barack Obama took office — the first voice recording of the Western world’s most wanted man in eight months.
Obama said at the time that Al-Qaeda and bin Laden — who is believed to be hiding in the mountainous region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border — remained the "number one threat" to US security.