SANAA/DUBAI (Reuters) - The Yemen-based wing of al Qaeda called for a regional Muslim holy war and a blockade of the Red Sea to cut off U.S. shipments to Israel, a further sign of the group's ambitions to mount new strikes outside its base.
Yemen is in the throes of a major crackdown on the global militant network's regional off-shoot, which grabbed the world's attention when it claimed a failed bomb attack on U.S.-bound plane in December.
Western powers and neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, fear that Yemen's growing instability as it struggles with northern Shi'ite rebels and southern secessionists, may allow al Qaeda to strengthen its operations.
"The Christians, the Jews, and the treacherous apostate rulers have pounced on you ... you have no other way out from this plight other than to wage jihad," the wing's deputy leader, Saeed al-Shehri, said in an audio tape posted on a website often used by Islamist groups.
Shehri, a former inmate of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay from Saudi Arabia, was one of 30 al Qaeda members that Yemen claimed to have killed in an air strike in December but this was later denied by the global militant network.
Shehri also said the Yemen-based wing's failed bomb attack on the plane to Detroit on December 25 had been carried out in coordination with network leader Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden claimed responsibility for the attack in January, weeks after al Qaeda in Yemen said it was behind it.
Shehri called on Somalia's Islamist al Shabaab insurgents to help block a narrow strait at the mouth of the Red Sea that separates Yemen from the Horn of Africa.
"At such a time the Bab (al Mandab) will be closed and that will tighten the noose on the Jews (Israel), because through it America supports them by the Red Sea," Shehri said.
The area across the strait from Yemen is far from al Shabaab's territory.
Hours after the recording was issued, Yemen's top national security body held a meeting headed by President Ali Abdullah Saleh and said "all necessary measures will be taken to maintain security and public order and control outlaw elements," state media reported.
Fighting in the north of the poor Arab country, where about 40 percent of the population survive on less than $2 a day, continued on Monday, state media reported. The rebels said on their website they had blocked attempts by army forces to advance near the northern city of Saada and other fronts.
The website said Saudi rockets had killed two children and wounded two others and that Saudi warplanes carried out nine air strikes in northern Yemen by mid-day on Monday.
There was no immediate official response from Saudi Arabia, which was drawn into a five-year conflict between the Yemeni government and the rebels three months ago when the rebels seized some of the kingdom's territory.
Yemen said on Saturday it had handed the rebels a timetable for implementing the government's ceasefire terms, a week after rejecting a truce offer from the insurgents because it did not include the promise to end hostilities against Saudi Arabia.
A Yemeni official told Reuters on Monday that the government had received a response from the rebels, but declined to give further details as to the nature of the answer.
"The government is still studying the response," the official said, declining to be identified.
The insurgents said they staged their cross-border raid into Saudi Arabia because the kingdom had been allowing Yemeni troops to use Saudi territory to launch attacks against them.
Saudi Arabia declared victory over the rebels last month, but has continued launching air strikes and rocket attacks against the insurgents, who say they have now quit Saudi land.
Yemeni forces also fought rebels in the north on Monday, inflicting "heavy casualties" on the insurgents, the defense ministry's online newspaper September 26 reported.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Mohamed Sudam in Sanaa, Andrew Hammond and Firouz Sedarat in Dubai; Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Ralph Boulton