The 34-minute message from Ayman al-Zawahiri addressed the corruption of the Egyptian regime and denounced the government of President Hosni Mubarak for resisting Islamic law.
"The constitution of the regime in Egypt claims that it is democratic. But it's truth that it's a suppressive regime that rules the people with suppressive forces and fake elections and corrupt media and unjust law," Zawahiri said. Zawahiri, an Egyptian-born doctor, served three years in prison for his role in the 1981 assassination of Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, and helped found Al Qaeda after his release from prison.
The audio message was produced by al Qaeda's media arm, as-Sahab, meaning "of The Cloud," and posted on radical Islamic internet forums Friday as part of a video, according to the IntelCenter, a terrorism monitoring group. The audio message gives no date or indication of when it was recorded, and makes no reference to the 18 days of mass protests that began in January, but the still images featured in the video include a reference to an Islamic month that ended one week before Mubarak's Feb. 11 resignation.
Since the Egyptian popular uprising began last month, regional analysts had noted al Qaeda's lack of response. Overthrowing the Egyptian regime had long been a stated goal of al Qaeda. Zawahiri's message comes faster than typical al Qaeda releases, but not in time to claim any effect on the unrest in Egypt.
Mubarak had been in power for 30 years, taking over after a militant group led by Zawahiri, Islamic Jihad, assassinated Sadat. Egyptian authorities quickly arrested and convicted several members of the Islamic Jihad, including Zawahiri. He has accused the government of systematic torture while he was imprisoned.
After his release in 1984, Zawahiri quickly left Egypt for Saudi Arabia and then Pakistan, where he provided medical aid to the mujahedeen then fighting Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. It was in Pakistan that Zawahiri befriended Osama bin Laden, and eventually merged Islamic Jihad into the Saudi scion's organization, al Qaeda.
During his years in exile, Zawahiri was behind several terrorist attacks targeting Egyptian government officials and buildings, both inside Egypt and abroad. During the recent uprising and protests, Egyptians demanded that the government end the country's Emergency Rule, which had been enacted shortly after Sadat's assassination to protect against the threat of Islamic militants. Egyptians complained bitterly that the rule allowed the government to make arbitrary arrests and indefinite detention with no access to the Egyptian legal system.
Officials for the Central Intelligence Agency told ABC News that as a rule they do not publicly confirm the authenticity of al Qaeda audio and video messages.