DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A man claiming to be a senior Al Qaeda figure who the United States believes is operating in Iraq has released a recording calling for the country's Sunni Muslims to fight Shiites and claiming responsibility for high-profile attacks there.
The 33-minute audiotape could be heard Tuesday on a website known as a clearinghouse for militant Islamic messages. The speaker introduced himself as Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Palestinian Jordanian thought to be a close associate of Osama bin Laden.
The tape's authenticity could not be verified. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity in Washington, said experts were looking into it.
Middle East counter-terrorism officials said they also were examining the tape. One of the officials in Amman, Jordan, said preliminary indications from people familiar with Zarqawi's voice, and the tone of the threat, suggest the tape is genuine.
Zarqawi's whereabouts are unknown, but the website said he was in Iraq.
The tape appeared hours before a Jordanian court convicted Zarqawi in absentia and sentenced him to death for the 2002 killing of a U.S. aid official in a terrorist conspiracy linked to the Al Qaeda network. U.S. officials have offered a $10-million reward for his capture, saying he is trying to build a network of foreign militants in Iraq.
The voice on the tape claimed responsibility for a March 17 car bombing of a Baghdad hotel that killed seven people.
The speaker also said that his group carried out the assassination of Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr Hakim, the leader of Iraq's largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Hakim was killed by a car bomb in Najaf on Aug. 29. Iraq's Shiite majority was repressed by the government of Saddam Hussein.
On the tape, the speaker said Shiite Iraqis were not true Muslims and were "the ears and the eyes of the Americans" in Iraq.