Osama bin Laden's chief deputy is warning that al-Qaeda still has plans to target Western countries involved in the Iraq war in a new audiotape released Tuesday to answer questions posed by followers.
The voice in the lengthy file posted on an Islamic website could not be immediately confirmed as al-Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri's, but it sounded like past audiotapes of his voice.
The tape is billed as the second instalment of al-Zawahri's answers to more than 900 questions submitted on extremist internet sites by al-Qaeda supporters, critics and journalists in December.
Asked by one follower if the terror group still had plans to attack Western countries that participated in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and subsequent war, al-Zawahri said: "My answer is: Yes! We think that any country that has joined aggression on Muslims must be deterred."
Asked if there are any women in al-Qaeda, he answered simply: "No."
In another answer, al-Zawahri said it was against Islamic religious law for any Muslim to live permanently in a Western country "under the laws of the infidels."
In his first response to questions earlier this month, al-Zawahri rejected the criticism of attacks by the network's followers, which have killed thousands, and maintained that the group does not kill innocent people.
Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York and Washington in 2001, while its affiliates in Iraq, Afghanistan and Algeria regularly set off bombs in crowded urban areas that have taken thousands of lives.
Al-Qaeda's media arm, Al-Sahab, announced in December that al-Zawahri would take questions from the public posted on Islamic militant websites and would respond "as soon as possible."
Queries were submitted on the main Islamist website until the cutoff date of Jan. 16. After the deadline, the questions disappeared from the site.
According to the questions, self-proclaimed al-Qaeda supporters appeared to be as much in the dark about the network's operations and intentions as Western analysts and intelligence agencies.
The questioners appeared uncertain whether al-Qaeda's central leadership directly controls the multiple, small militant groups around the Middle East that work in its name, or whether those groups operate on their own.
Some asked if al-Qaeda had a long-term strategy, while others wanted advice about conducting Islamic holy war.
Al Qaeda No. 2 says 9/11 theory propagated by Iran
CAIRO, Egypt -- Osama bin Laden's chief deputy in an audiotape Tuesday accused Shiite Iran of trying to discredit the Sunni al Qaeda terror network by spreading the conspiracy theory that Israel was behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
The comments reflected al Qaeda's No. 2 leader Ayman al-Zawahri's increasing criticism of Iran. Al-Zawahri has accused Iran in recent messages of seeking to extend its power in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and through its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon......
......One of the questioners asked about the theory that has circulated in the Middle East and elsewhere that Israel was behind the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Al-Zawahri accused Hezbollah's Al-Manar television of starting the rumor.
"The purpose of this lie is clear -- (to suggest) that there are no heroes among the Sunnis who can hurt America as no else did in history. Iranian media snapped up this lie and repeated it," he said.
"Iran's aim here is also clear -- to cover up its involvement with America in invading the homes of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said.
Iran cooperated with the United States in the 2001 U.S. assault on Afghanistan that toppled al Qaeda's allies, the Taliban.
Answering questions about Iraq in Tuesday's tape, al-Zawahri said the insurgent umbrella group led by al Qaeda, called the Islamic State of Iraq, is "the primary force opposing the Crusaders and challenging Iranian ambitions" in Iraq, he said, referring to the Americans.
As he often does in his messages, al-Zawahri denounced the "Crusader invasion" of Iraq, but in Tuesday's tape he paired it with a mention of "Iranian complicity" or "Iranian agents......."
...... In response to a question signed by the Japanese news agency Kyodo asking if Japan remains a target because it once had troops in Iraq, al-Zawahri said "Japan provided help under the banner of the crusader coalition ... therefore it participated in the Crusader campaign against the lands of Islam."
Japan deployed non-combat troops to southern Iraq in 2003 to carry out reconstruction work. It withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2006 and now conducts airlifts to help supply U.S.-led forces in that country.
Al-Zawahri spoke on a wide range of issues, even global warming, which he said reflected "how criminal, brutal and greedy the Western Crusader world is, with America at the top."
He predicted that global warming would "make the world more sympathetic to and understanding of the Muslims' jihad against the aggressor America."
Asked if there are any women in al Qaeda, the terror leader answered simply: "No." In a follow-up answer, he said: "There are no women in al Qaeda jihadi group, but the women of the mujahedeen are playing a heroic role in taking care of their houses and sons."
In several parts of Tuesday's audio message, Al-Zawahri claimed that the Taliban took over 95 per cent of Afghanistan and is sweeping Pakistan as well.
"The Crusaders and their agents in Pakistan and Afghanistan are starting to fall," he said.
In another answer Tuesday, al-Zawahri said it was against Islamic religious law for any Muslim to live permanently in a Western country because in doing so they would "have permanent stay there under the laws of the infidels."