In his first message since assuming leadership of al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden's death, Ayman al-Zawahri has thrown his support behind what may seem like an unlikely cause: the pro-democracy movement in Syria. In the seven-minute video first posted to jihadist websites, al-Zawahri praises the "free people of Syria and its mujahideen" for trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom he calls a "leader of criminal gangs" and "America's partner in the war on Islam," and expresses regret that he can't be on the ground with them. But he cautions Syrian protesters not to ally themselves "with the colonialist powers of the world" like the U.S,. which he claims is trying to replace Assad with someone sympathetic to Israel. "Today Washington seeks to put in the place of Assad [someone] who loyally protected the Zionist borders, another regime against your revolution and jihad," he declares.
This isn't the first time al-Qaeda officials have heaped praise on the Arab Spring. In early June, shortly before his promotion, Zawahri posted another video in which he again expressed solidarity with the Mideast protest movements. That followed a videotaped message from bin Laden, released soon after his death, in which the al-Qaeda leader lauded the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions for "liberating" Muslim countries.