updated 9/22/2008 9:04:45 PM ET 2008-09-23T01:04:45

The leader of al-Qaida in North Africa has called for Muslims to unite in holy war against the region's governments and issued new threats against western targets, including France, Spain and the United States.

The message decried a "new colonial offensive" by the West in North Africa and warned Muslims not to back the local "regimes of apostasy and treason."

It was signed by Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, the pseudonym used by Abdelmalek Droukdel, the leader of al-Qaida's North African offshoot.

The authenticity of the message could not be independently verified. The 28-minute audiotape was issued along with video of heavily armed militants on Web sites frequently used by Islamist extremists. It was confirmed Monday by the U.S.-based SITE intelligence group, which monitors militant messages.

Main target was Algerian authorities
Droukdel's main target was Algerian authorities. He accused them of fighting a proxy war against Islam in the name of U.S. and French interests. He cited as proof U.S. plans for military bases in the Sahara Desert to fight trafficking and terrorism, and a French-backed effort to create a common structure between the European Union and countries south of the Mediterranean Sea.

Droukdel's group, known as Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, is a militant faction left over from a civil war in the 1990s that joined Osama bin Laden's terrorist network in 2006. Violence has dramatically increased since then, and more than 100 people were killed in August alone.

Droukdel warned Algerian officials that these "recent successful attacks that ruined their lives are only a small part of what torture lies (ahead) for them."

France is Algeria's former colonial ruler and Droukdel said Algerian officials might want to seek refuge there as the confrontation with al-Qaida increases. He warned officials this would be a mistake, apparently implying French territory could also be targeted. He said France will not be a safe haven "because it will be occupied with its (own) security."

He also slammed U.S.-allied Morocco for letting the small northern enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla be "occupied by the Spanish" and said Moroccan officials have sold the country "to the Judeo-Crusader alliance."

He criticized Mauritania for having recognized Israel, accusing the impoverished desert-nation of collaborating with the Mossad, the Jewish state's secret service. Tunisia he blamed for its social reforms and promotion of rights for women, while he ridiculed Libya's Moammar Gadhafi for his recent diplomatic turnaround in favor of the U.S.

Islamists lost the war against the secular-leaning Algerian army in part because they were accused of widespread massacres. Droukdel appeared anxious to dispel as propaganda reports that his group is again indiscriminately targeting civilians.

He assured his "Muslim brothers" that the mujahideen, or holy warriors, tried to avoid hitting civilians, stating that the "the real killers of innocents" are "the sons of France and the worshippers of America."

Droukdel repeated calls for Algerians to avoid "coming close to the security and official centers of the apostates, or the gatherings of the Crusaders and their interests because they are legitimate targets for us."

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