DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda’s No. 2 urged the Turkish people in an Internet message posted on Sunday to pressure their government to sever ties with Israel and withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
The audio recording, whose authenticity could not be verified, coincides with deteriorating Turkish-Israeli relations after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan condemned an Israeli offensive in Gaza in December 2008, and criticized an Israeli blockade of the Palestinian enclave.
“The Turkish people should take the responsibility for stopping their government from continuing to recognize those who plundered Palestine,” Ayman al-Zawahri said in the recording.
In the posting entitled “A message to the Turkish people,” Zawahri, speaking in Arabic, urged Turks to put a halt to their government’s help to “the Crusaders in the killing of Muslims in Afghanistan.”
Relations between Turkey and Israeli further deteriorated after Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists in a sea raid as they attempted to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in May.
“Change will come if Turks demand that their government stop dealing with and recognizing Israel, stop sending troops to kill our Muslim brothers in Afghanistan and stop fighting Islam,” Zawahri said.
Zawahri said sending aid vessels to Gaza was not enough and that the Turkish people should carry out their historic role “as the defender of Islam and protector of Muslims.”
“The Turkish people should regain the glorious role once played by the Ottoman (Empire) to defend Islam in general and Palestine in particular,” he said in the 20-minute recording.
“Every proud Muslim in Turkey should protest against crimes committed by the Turkish government and army.”
“Your government issues statements against the crimes of the Jews in Gaza but it commits the same crimes ... in Afghanistan against Muslims and the Mujahideen,” he said.
Turkey’s troops in Afghanistan are not engaged in combat operations and Ankara has long resisted pressure from Washington to offer combat troops.
Turkey, a NATO member, has a special relationship with Afghanistan that can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire’s ties to South and Central Asia.
Reporting by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Michael Roddy