Town Hall Meeting al Qaeda-Style

Al Qaeda's No. 2 man insisted Osama bin Laden is healthy, and renewed threats to Israel Wednesday in response to the thousands of questions he received from jihadist message boards.

"Sheikh Osama bin Laden is healthy and well, by the grace of Allah," Ayman al Zawahri said. "The prejudiced ones always try to spread false information about him being ill, but even if Osama bin Laden doesn't become ill, he must die one day, whereas Allah's religion will remain until Allah inherits the earth and everything on it."

The questions were posted in response to Ayman al Zawahri's December solicitation for online questions from "friendly or hostile" individuals and organizations with the promise that they would be answered one month later.

Zawahri's almost two-hour-long audio message addresses everything from killing innocent lives to condemning one of the foremost Muslim scholars, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Many of Zawahri's questioners asked why al Qaeda is waging attacks on Muslims and in Muslim lands, rather than on Israel. Zawahri answered one such question, saying, "We promise Muslim brothers that we will strive as much as we can to deal blows to the Jews inside Israel and outside it."

Zawahri responded to one question about the loss of innocent life saying, "If there is any innocent who was killed in the mujahedeen's operations, then it was either an unintentional error, or out of necessity as in cases of al-Tatarrus [taking of human shields by the enemy]."

One terrorism expert who studies jihadist Web sites says the audio message may signal a shift in al Qaeda's media operations. The expert cites the fact that both Zawahri's message and Osama bin Laden's last address were both released without video. The expert also says the recent files uploaded to jihadist Web sites have appeared in Arabic, rather than their usual format in English.

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