CAIRO -- The new Al Qaeda video featuring an American calling for his countrymen to convert to Islam raised fears it signaled an imminent attack, but analysts in the region said yesterday it is more likely a bid to soften the terrorist group's image.
Adam Yehiye Gadahn, a 28-year-old American who the FBI believes attended Al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan and served as an Al Qaeda translator, also urged US soldiers to switch sides in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
He appeared in a 48-minute video that was posted Saturday on an Islamic militant website along with footage of Al Qaeda's number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, who gave a brief introduction for Gadahn while also calling on Americans to convert to Islam.
There have been widespread reports that some Muslim religious figures strongly criticized Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden over the Sept. 11 , 2001, terrorist attacks, saying he failed to follow directives in the Koran that require potential victims be warned that conversion to Islam could save them.
The criticism led to speculation after Gadahn's appearance that the video meant a warning was being issued and an attack was imminent.
But analysts 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.
Mishari al-Thaydi, a columnist with the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, agreed, saying Al Qaeda 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," Thaydi said. ``By using this American," he added, ``al-Zawahri is saying that he is a preacher and not a terrorist. "
Hani el-Sibaei, a former Egyptian militant who fought with Zawahri in Afghanistan , said Gadahn's nationality makes him the perfect spokesman.
``Al Qaeda uses him because he speaks their language and can convey the message better than others," Sibaei said.
It was the second time Gadahn appeared in a video with Zawahri. In a July 7 message marking the first anniversary of the terrorist attack on London commuters, Gadahn appeared, saying no Muslim should ``shed tears" for Westerners killed by Al Qaeda attacks.