DUBAI, Sept 20: Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden called on Muslims in Pakistan to wage holy war against the government of President Pervez Musharraf in a new audio message issued on Thursday.

Bin Laden declared Al Qaeda’s intention to retaliate for the blood spilled by “champions of Islam,” in the new recording produced by the terror network’s media arm As-Sahab and monitored by the US-based SITE Intelligence Group.

“It is obligatory on the Muslims in Pakistan to carry out jihad (holy war) and fighting to remove Pervez, his government, his army and those who help him,” said the voice in the tape.

The recording was accompanied by video footage of the Western world’s most wanted man, including scenes of him firing a machine gun and walking in a mountainous area with his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist websites, said the video footage had been previously released.

The threat from bin Laden was swiftly dismissed by Pakistan. “We are already committed to fighting extremists and terrorists -- there is no change in our policy,” chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP.

“If someone is hurling threats at us, that is their view. The whole nation is behind us and the Pakistan army is a national institution,” Arshad added.

The threat against Musharraf surfaced just as Pakistan’s election commission named October 6 as the date for a presidential poll in which the embattled military ruler will seek re-election in uniform.

A string of videos and audio messages have been issued by Al Qaeda to mark the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, some featuring bin Laden who had previously not been seen for three years.

“The imminent call by bin Laden to fight against Musharraf demonstrates Al Qaeda’s long-standing and deep hatred for the Pakistani regime, its principal enemy in the region,” said Yasser Serri, director of the Islamic Observatory based in London.

In another video released by Al Qaeda’s media arm, bin Laden’s number two also warned that Musharraf would be “punished” over the killing of leading rebel cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi in the storming of the Red Mosque in Islamabad in July.

Pakistan, which became a US ally after the September 11, 2001 attacks, has suffered a dramatic upsurge in violence since the siege and storming of the Al-Qaeda-linked mosque which left more than 100 people dead.

In the tape, the bearded and bespectacled Zawahiri branded Pakistani security forces “hunting dogs under (US President George W.) Bush’s crucifix.

“Let the Pakistani army know that the killing of Abdul Rashid Ghazi and his male and female students and the demolishing of his masjid and two madrassahs (mosque and religious schools) has soaked the history of the Pakistan army in shame and despicableness which can only be washed away by retaliation against the killers of Abdul-Rashid Ghazi and his students,” he said.

In the same Al Qaeda video, Zawahiri and others taunt the United States over alleged Islamist victories in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and call for Muslim allies of Washington to be driven from power.

The 81-minute video is a compilation of old TV news clips mixed with new comments from Zawahiri.—AFP

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