The leader of North Africa's al-Qaida branch offered training and weapons to Nigeria's Muslims to fight the Christians there following an outbreak of sectarian violence.
Abdelmalek Droukdel, leader of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, in a statement posted on an Islamic Web site Monday, accused the Nigeria's Christians of killing hundreds of Muslims in a "Crusader war."
Droukdel promised to train Muslim youths, supply them with weapons and equipment.
"We are ready to train your sons on using weapons, support them with men, weapons, ammunition and equipment to enable them defend themselves," he said, exhorting Nigerians to "push your sons into the fields of jihad to become the fighting vanguard in defense of the Muslims' blood and honor."
Violence between Christians and Muslims in central Nigeria left 326 people dead late last month, but Droukdel, also known as Abu Musab Abdul-Wadud, maintained that over 500 innocent Muslims were killed.
He criticized Western and Arab media for portraying the events in Nigeria as sectarian, tribal or economic but "it is a clear massacre against Muslims only."
Droukdel told Nigerian Muslims that "the only way to get end these continued massacres and to restore your rights ... is to prepare yourselves for the holy war and the best example for you is your brothers in Somalia who confront the Ethiopian Crusaders."
Sectarian violence in this central region of Nigeria has left thousands dead over the past decade. The latest outbreak came despite the Nigerian government's efforts to quell religious extremism in the West African country.
There are conflicting accounts about what unleashed the recent bloodshed. According to a state police commissioner, skirmishes began after Muslim youths set a Christian church ablaze, but Muslim leaders denied that.
Muslims say it began with an argument over the rebuilding of a Muslim home in a predominantly Christian neighborhood that had been destroyed in November 2008.
Al-Qaida in North Africa, which holds French hostage Pierre Camatte for more than two months, demanded the release of four of its members arrested by Mali several months ago, in exchange for his release.
The group operates mainly in Algeria, but has ranged widely across the vast Sahara desert to carry out operations in Mali, Mauritania and elsewhere.
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