''The al-Qaeda commanders in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri, were killed by Shia allies of the Crusaders. It wasn't only the Americans who killed them, but also the Shias, heirs of those who in the past have always been allies of the Crusaders and who have always betrayed us, helping unbelievers to occupy our lands''.
Nonsense, Of course. But these words are not to be undervalued. Because the person saying them is Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor thought to be the right-hand man of Osama bin Laden. The message, a 25 minute audiotape, entitled "Elegy to two chiefs" was broadcast yesterday on the galaxy of Websites linked to Islamic extremism. Al-Zawahiri, who has always been Islam's most violent ideologue, is referring to an event that happened a long time before, the death of al-Baghdadi and al-Masri in Iraq on the 17th of April, made public two days later in a live TV broadcast on the 19th of April by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Iraqi Premier displayed photos of the two men immediately after their death. And the Pentagon itself then confirmed the news. Here lies the significance of Zawahiri's message, linked to the Iraqi vote. The elections, in fact, had been won by Allawi's secular list, open to Sunnis. Al-Maliki, in an attempt to overturn the electoral result and obtain a parliamentary majority, had invited the more radical Shias, the ones with ties to Iran, to join a coalition government. A bitter blow for the Sunnis. Everybody talks about the opposition between radical Islam and US foreign policy, but, up to present, nobody has been saying enough about the split in the Muslim world caused by the Iraq war in 2003, launching a Shia country into the limelight, right next to Iran - the symbol of Shiism - characterised by the internationalism of President Ahmadinejad. A worrying scenario for the Sunnis, especially radicals like Zawahiri.
''The Shia have always plotted with the Crusaders against us Muslims'', the Egyptian doctor proceeds in his message.
According to the more radical interpretations, in fact, the schism is a form of heresy, and this point of view is spreading dangerously, from Pakistan to Iraq.
It is not by chance that the revenge for the death of the al-Qaeda commanders comes on the 14th of May, when an attack in the city of Tal Afar caused the death of 25 people. And nor was the city, populated mostly by Shia Muslims, chosen by chance. ''How can we close our eyes to the abuses committed by Shias to the people of Islam, both men and women?'', were the words of a statement issued a few hours after the attack.
Zawahiri had already attacked Hezbollah and Iran in previous messages. He uses a religious factor to create a split and regain lost ground in international public opinion, where Lebanese guerillas and Ahmadinejad are carving out a 'heroic' role for themselves as adversaries of Israel and the United States. Merchandise worth its weight in gold on the al-Jazeera (that broadcast the al-Zawahiri's audiotape) viewers' market.
And so, the regional theatre gets new actors. Zawahiri's extremists are not alone in attacking Shias, masquerading unconfessable strategic objectives behind a theological divide.
The Sunni powers, in particular those of the Persian Gulf, ruling over febrile Shia minorities, are, not by chance, the Iranian nuclear programme's most important enemies. A scenario that is far from reassuring.