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Zawahri Tells Muslims Not To Be Fooled By Obama

Ayman al-Zawahri in a 2006 video screen grab
DUBAI (Reuters) -- Al-Qaeda's second-in-command has told Muslims not to be fooled by U.S. President Barack Obama's policies which, he said on an Islamist website, are no different to those of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

"America came to us with a new face, with which it is trying to fool us. He is calling for change, but [he aims] to change us so that we abandon our religion and rights," Ayman al-Zawahri said in an audio recording on the website.

Zawahri said Obama's election was an acknowledgement that Bush's policy had failed.

"Obama did not change the image of America among Muslims...America is still killing Muslims," said the Egyptian militant leader.

Obama has vowed to continue fighting terrorism and has promised a change in U.S. policies under Bush, who waged a war against terrorism after Al-Qaeda's 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Zawahri argued that the United States was losing to Islamist fighters in Afghanistan and Iraq and criticized Obama for sending more troops to Afghanistan.

Washington is deploying an additional 17,000 troops to reinforce about 70,000 international troops in Afghanistan.

The Obama administration also plans to send more economic assistance and intensify diplomacy in a bid to counter the Taliban, Al-Qaeda allies operating in Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Zawahri also warned Palestinian militant group Hamas against caving in to pressure from Egypt and the Palestinian government of President Mahmud Abbas to recognize Israel and called on Palestinians to target Israelis and their allies abroad.

"If circumstances were difficult in one place they are easier in other places. Our enemies, crusaders and Jews, are scattered everywhere," he said.

Egypt has been negotiating a truce between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, following an Israeli offensive in December and January in the coastal strip.

Al-Qaeda leaders have been placing emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seen by many Arabs and Muslims as a joint cause, in an apparent effort to widen their support and influence there. But intelligence officials see little evidence the group has established a presence in Palestinian areas.