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Qaeda's Zawahri calls for Pakistani jihad

DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda’s second-in-command on Friday accused the United States of leading a crusade to turn Pakistan into a divided nation and urged Pakistanis to join in a jihad to resist.

A frame grab of a video released in September 2006 shows Al Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri. REUTERS/Reuters TV

The tape from Ayman al-Zawahri, the second this month, comes after Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a U.S. missile strike on August 5.

It also comes after Pakistan’s army went on the offensive in late April against an insurgency by al Qaeda allies, the Taliban, in Swat valley after the militants took over the district 120 km (80 miles) from Islamabad, raising fears for Pakistan’s stability and the safety of its nuclear weapons.

“The war in the tribal areas and Swat is an integral part of the crusade on Muslims across the world,” Zawahri said in the tape posted on an al Qaeda-linked website.

In the 22-minute video address entitled “Path of Doom” he reiterates comments made in July calling for Pakistanis to wage war against the American “crusaders” and the Pakistani army.

“There is no honor for us except through Jihad,” Zawahri said.

“People of Pakistan ... back the jihad and mujahideen with your persons, wealth, opinion, expertise, information and prayers and by exhorting others to help them and preach their message.”

Pakistan has been hit by a series of suicide bomb attacks over the past two years, launched by al Qaeda-linked militants fighting the government because of its support for the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy.

Security forces have cleared most militants from the Swat valley and have also been attacking Mehsud’s men in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border.

The Taliban had been denying Mehsud’s death for weeks, but on Monday two of his aides, Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali-ur-Rehman, confirmed their leader had been killed.

Some Afghan Taliban factions, which have bases in lawless Pashtun lands on the Pakistani side of the border, have argued against attacks in Pakistan, saying all fighters should concentrate on expelling Western forces from Afghanistan.

Western governments with forces in Afghanistan are watching to see if a new Pakistani Taliban leader would shift the focus from fighting the Pakistan government to supporting the Afghan insurgency.

Hakimullah, who led militants in the Khyber, Orakzai and Kurram ethnic Pashtun tribal regions, has been picked as the new overall commander of the Pakistani Taliban.

A suicide bombing that killed 22 Pakistani border guards on Thursday in an attack at the main crossing point into Afghanistan was the first since Mehsud was killed.

Security officials had been saying they were expecting reprisal attacks by Hakimullah’s men and Thursday’s blast in Khyber appeared to indicate he is determined to press on with the fight against the government.

Editing by Michael Roddy