(CNSNews.com) - Iraq-based terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has called on Muslims to escalate attacks during Ramadan, according to a message posted on an Islamist website and cited by wire services.
"Al-Qaeda organization in Iraq announces that Tuesday is the first day of the blessed month of Ramadan ... a month of serious work, jihad and initiative," said the statement, purportedly from Zarqawi.
It called on Muslims to muster their strength and "kill the worshippers of the cross who have ... demolished mosques and houses, burnt copies of the Koran and sowed corruption in the land."
The Muslim fast month began on Tuesday in some parts of the world, including most of the Middle East and Western Europe, and on Wednesday in others, including Turkey, Malaysia and North America.
The ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan marks the time Muslims believe the Koran was revealed to the prophet Mohammed in the 7th century. It is meant to be a time of spiritual reflection, and observant Muslims abstain from food, drink and other worldly pleasures between sunrise and sunset.
The month incorporates the anniversaries of several victorious Muslim battles in the early years of Islam.
In recent years Ramadan has witnessed an increase in violent activities by Islamists, with the trend beginning well before the Iraq war: In the late 1990s, extremists in Algeria were marking the "holy month" by killing civilians by the hundreds, and in 2000 a spate of church bombings in Indonesia killed 19 people during Ramadan.
Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament during the last days of Ramadan of 2001, killing 12 people during a drawn-out gun battle.
Towards the end of Ramadan in 2002, terrorists bombed an Israeli-owned hotel on the Kenyan coast and tried unsuccessfully to shoot down an Israeli passenger plane, also over Kenya.
The first day of Ramadan in 2003 was marked in Baghdad by a spree of deadly suicide bombings, with the International Committee of the Red Cross headquarters and several police stations targeted.
Terrorists during Ramadan of that year also attacked a housing compound in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and British interests and synagogues in Istanbul, Turkey. During that same month, plots to attack Mecca and Yemen were reportedly foiled.
Ramadan can be an especially troubling time for Christians in Muslim countries, according to Barnabas Fund, a British charity which supports embattled Christian communities living in difficult circumstances.
"Ramadan is a time when Christian minorities in the Muslim world often experience an increase in harassment," the organization said this week.
It recalled that last Ramadan an Internet journal associated with al-Qaeda had published several articles calling for the fight against "infidels" to be intensified during the month.