Video is meant to soften al-Qaida's image, analysts say
It isn't a warning that an attack is imminent, experts said.
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- The new al-Qaida video featuring an American calling for his countrymen to convert to Islam raised fears it signaled an imminent attack, but experts in the region said Sunday it is more likely a bid to soften the terror group's image.
Adam Yehiye Gadahn, a 28-year-old American who the FBI believes attended al-Qaida training camps in Pakistan and served as an al-Qaida translator, also urged U.S. soldiers to switch sides in the Iraq and Afghan wars.
He appeared in a 48-minute video that was posted Saturday on an Islamic militant Web site along with footage of al-Qaida's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, who gave only a brief introduction to Gadahn while also calling on Americans to convert to Islam.
There have been widespread reports that some Muslim religious figures strongly criticized al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden over the Sept. 11 attacks, saying he failed to follow directives in the Quran that require potential victims be warned that conversion to Islam could save them.
The criticism led to speculation after Gadahn's appearance that the Saturday video meant a warning was being issued and a new attack was imminent.
But experts discounted those fears.
"This is not a warning for an attack. It is rather a speech aimed at winning the Americans' sympathy and understanding," said Gamal Sultan, editor of the Islamic magazine Al Manar.
Columnist Mishari al-Thaydi of the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat agreed, saying al-Qaida is trying to portray itself as a group with a religious mission, not a terrorist movement.
"They have always been accused of lacking a program, that they are just a bunch of zealots," al-Thaydi said. "People accuse them of forgetting the essence of Islam -- conversion of nonbelievers."
"By using this American," he added, "al-Zawahri is saying that he is a preacher and not a terrorist. He wants to take back the initiative which has been lost in the midst of terror."
Hani el-Sibaei, a former Egyptian militant who fought with al-Zawahri in Afghanistan and now lives in exile in London, said Gadahn's American roots make him the perfect spokesman.
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