Bin Laden defends al-Zarqawi's on Internet

Bin Laden paid tribute to the slain leader of al-Qaida in Iraq in a 19-minute videotape posted on an Islamic militant Web site. The message has narration by a voice resembling bin Laden's as the video shows an old picture of him in a split-screen next to images of al-Zarqawi taken from a previous video.

In the message, bin Laden demanded U.S. President George W. Bush hand over the body of al-Zarqawi to his family and effusively praises the Jordanian-born militant, often in rhyming couplets. His voice sounded breathy and fatigued at times.

The autenticity of the video could not be immediately confirmed. It bore the logo of As-Sahab, the al-Qaida production branch that releases all its messages, and was posted on an Islamic Web forum where militants often post messages. Typically, the CIA does a technical analysis to determine whether the speaker is who the tape claims and the National Counterterrorism Center analyzes the message's contents.

In the tape, bin Laden addressed "those who accuse Abu Musab of killing certain sectors of the Iraqi people," referring to the campaign of suicide bombings by al-Zarqawi's followers targeting Shiites. Al-Zarqawi was killed in a June 7 airstrike northeast of Baghdad by U.S. warplanes.

Al-Zarqawi's strategy of attacking Shiite civilians in an attempt to spark a Shiite-Sunni civil war in Iraq raised criticism even among some fellow Islamic extremists, and was apparently a source of some tension between him and al-Qaida's central leadership, to which he had sworn allegiance.

In July 2005, bin Laden's deputy reportedly wrote a letter to al-Zarqawi criticizing his attacks on Iraqi Shiite mosques and civilians, saying they hurt the mujahedeen's image. The al-Qaida deputy also asked al-Zarqawi for money, according to the U.S. military, which said it intercepted the message.