Al-Qaeda's deputy leader called on Muslims around the world to back Hamas with weapons, money and attacks on US and Israeli interests in a web audiotape Monday, urging the Palestinian group to unite with al-Qaeda's "holy warriors" after its takeover of Gaza.
The message from Ayman al-Zawahri, who is Osama bin Laden's top deputy, marked a major shift by al-Qaeda, which in the past criticized Hamas for joining a government with the US-supported Fatah faction.
The audiotape was clearly made after Hamas' takeover of Gaza earlier this month, marking a rapid response from al-Qaeda's top leadership to the events. Its authenticity could not be independently confirmed, but it was posted on a web forum where al-Zawahri has issued messages in the past.
Al-Zawahri urged Hamas to implement Islamic law in Gaza, telling it, "Taking over power is not a goal but a means to implement God's word on earth.
"Unite with mujahedeen (holy warriors) in Palestine ... and with all mujahedeen in the world in the face of the upcoming attack where Egyptians and Saudis are expected to play part of it," he added, suggesting that the two countries intended to attack Hamas to uproot its control of Gaza.
"Provide them (Hamas) with money, do your best to get it there, break the siege imposed on them by Crusaders and Arab leader traitors," al-Zawahri, who is Osama bin Laden's top deputy, said, addressing Muslims around the world. "Facilitate weapons smuggling from neighboring countries."
"We can support them by targeting the Crusader and Zionist interest wherever we can," al-Zawahri said.
The 25-minute tape, al-Zawahri's seventh released this year, was posted on the same day Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was hosting a summit in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheik as a show of support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. Along with Mubarak and Abbas, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jordan's King Abdullah II are also attending the meeting.
The tape was titled "40 years on the fall of Jerusalem," a reference to the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War.
Al-Zawahri harshly attacked former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, blaming him for the defeat, and Mubarak for serving the interests of the US and Israel.
The tape, which was posted with a picture of al-Zawahri, came a day after the alleged chief of al-Qaeda in Egypt Mohammed Khalil al-Hakayma called for attacks against Israeli civilians and military personnel in Egypt.
"O Mujahedeen ... uproot the Zionist presence in the land of Egypt, stand up and set fire everywhere and don't differentiate between a civilian and a military personnel, as they have raided our children and women, we will also kill their children and women," said the online statement.
The statement's authenticity could not be verified, but it was posted on the same web site as al-Zawahri's audiotape.
Last year, al-Zawahri announced in a video tape that al-Qaeda had established a branch in Egypt led by al-Hakayama.
Al-Hakayama was a member of Egypt's al-Gamaa Islamiya, an Islamic group, which waged a campaign of violence in Egypt during the 1990s, but was crushed in a government crackdown.