DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda's North African wing has condemned Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and expressed solidarity with protesters revolting against his rule, the SITE Intelligence Group quoted it as saying on Thursday.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) accused Gaddafi of hiring African mercenaries and ordering aircraft to fire on protestors, SITE said, citing a jihadist statement issued on Thursday.
AQIM urged Muslim scholars, thinkers and journalists to support the Libyan people in their uprising.
"We were pained by the carnage and the cowardly massacres carried out by the killer of innocents Gaddafi against our people and our unarmed Muslim brothers who only came to lift his oppression, his disbelief, his tyranny and his might," AQIM was quoted as saying in the statement.
"We only came out to defend you against these despots who usurped your rights, plundered your wealth, and prevented you from having the minimum requirements of a dignified life and the simplest meanings of freedom and human dignity," AQIM said.
The group, under pressure from Algerian security forces in the north, moved some of its operations to the desert area straddling Niger, Mali, Algeria and Mauritania where the vast expanses and porous borders have provided it with a safe haven.
Massive protests have swept through Arab countries in past weeks, threatening Gaddafi's four-decade rule after toppling the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.
"We call upon the Muslim Libyan people to have steadfastness and patience, and we incite them to continue their struggle and revolution and to escalate it to oust the criminal tyrant," the group said.
Reporting by Martina Fuchs; Editing by Maria Golovnina