In a new audio message Thursday, the leader of al-Qaeda in
Iraq called for explosives experts and nuclear scientists to join his group's holy war against the West. He also said that more than 4,000 foreign insurgent fighters have been killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.
That comment was believed to be the first major statement from insurgents in Iraq about their losses.
"The blood has been spilled in Iraq of more than 4,000 foreigners who came to fight," said the man, who identified himself as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir — also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri — the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The voice could not be independently identified.
The Arabic word he used indicated he was speaking about foreigners who joined the insurgency in Iraq, not coalition troops.
The speaker said "the field of jihad" could provide scientists with an avenue for experimentation.
"The field of jihad (holy war) can satisfy your scientific ambitions, and the large American bases (in Iraq) are good places to test your unconventional weapons, whether biological or dirty, as they call them," he said.
In the recording, al-Masri also urged Muslims to make Ramadan a "month of holy war" and called for insurgents in Iraq to kidnap Westerners. Sunni Arabs began observing Ramadan in Iraq on Saturday, while Shiites were to begin Monday.
Al-Masri called on insurgents in Iraq to capture Westerners so they could be traded for the imprisoned Egyptian sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted in 1995 of conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks.
"I appeal to every holy warrior in the land of Iraq to exert all efforts in this holy month so that God may enable us to capture some of the Western dogs to swap them with our sheik and get him out of his dark prison," the voice on the tape said.
Al-Masri, a Sunni Muslim, has been relatively silent since taking over control of al-Qaeda in Iraq earlier this year — a sharp contrast with al-Zarqawi, who frequently issued audiotapes and even a videotape that showed his face a few weeks before his death.
Al-Masri is believed to have succeeded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who died in a US air strike north of Baghdad in June, as the head of al-Qaedain Iraq.