By Feisal Omar
MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab on Wednesday praised al Qaeda over an attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and urged further strikes at the "heart of the Crusader enemies".
Al Shabaab, which has itself carried out attacks across east Africa, including a 2013 raid on a Nairobi shopping mall that killed 67, described two brothers who attacked the magazine and a third who targeted a Jewish shop, as "a wonderful example".
"We encourage all Muslims, specifically the sons of Tawheed living in Europe, to follow in the footsteps of their brothers," it said in a statement.
Two gunmen burst into Charlie Hebdo's offices in Paris on Jan. 7 and killed 12 people. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the attack.
"We...thank our brothers, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who have been - and continue to be - the pioneers of external operations that target the heart of the Crusader enemies," al Shabaab said.
AQAP has recently focused on fighting government forces and Shi'ite rebels in Yemen but says it still aims to carry out attacks abroad. Western officials often cite AQAP as al Qaeda's most dangerous branch.
Al Shabaab said the magazine had insulted Islam by repeatedly publishing cartoon images depicting the Prophet Mohammad. Many Muslims view depictions of Mohammad as blasphemy.
The group is fighting African Union peacekeepers and a Western-backed government in Somalia where it wants to impose its own brand of strict sharia law across the country.
(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; editing by Edith Honan and Ralph Boulton)