The leader of al-Qaida's Yemeni offshoot on Tuesday pledged his group's allegiance to Osama bin Laden's successor, and vowed to continue the fight against corrupt Western-backed leaders.
In a 10-minute audio message posted on extremist websites, Nasser al-Wahishi said his group _ al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula _ recognizes Egyptian-born doctor Ayman al-Zawahri as the new chief of al-Qaida. Al-Zawahri took over command of al-Qaida following the death of bin Laden in a U.S. raid in Pakistan in May.
Al-Qaida-linked militants have taken advantage of the political turmoil engulfing Yemen to seize control of at least two towns and surrounding territory in the country's south, forcing more than 100,000 people to flee the area as government forces carry out airstrikes and a ground offensive to regain control.
"My soldiers and those soldiers with me in the Arab gulf... will not give up nor give in until Islam is ruling by God's will and strength," al-Wahishi said.
With an estimated 300 members, the United States says it is al-Qaida's most active branch. The group was linked to several attempted attacks on U.S. targets, including a plot to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner in December 2009 and parcel bombs placed on cargo flights last year.
The U.S. fears al-Qaida-linked militants will take advantage of the unrest in Yemen to expand its haven in the country and plot attacks against the West. Washington has stepped up efforts to combat AQAP, using drones to target militants in Yemen's rugged provinces.
Al-Wahishi condemned US drone attacks on Yemen, which have killed civilians, and the "silence" of Yemen's leaders to these attacks.
"Our war against the Zionist Crusaders remains, for they have chosen this war," he said.
He said he supports the roughly six months of protests in Yemen seeking to oust embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh after 33 years in power.
Speaking more broadly of the uprisings sweeping across the Arab world, he said they have "toppled regimes and blown America's dreams to the winds."
"It has given Muslims a natural chance to rid themselves of the West's cross _ its plots and its plans_ to chisel its own course for a return to the glory days," he added.
The al-Qaida leader also criticized the rulers of neighboring Saudi Arabia.
He said they turned the country _ home to Islam's holiest site in Mecca _ into a safe haven for tyrants, referring to the former Tunisian president who took refuge there after being ousted during a popular uprising in January, as well as the Yemeni president who is recuperating there after an attack on his presidential compound in June.
The audio was released a day after a top al-Qaida commander, Ali Said Jameel, was killed along with 17 other militants by government forces in southern Yemen, according to Brigadier-General Mohammed al-Sawmali.
Tribal leaders close to Jameel's family confirmed his death.
Jameel was on a list of wanted al-Qaida leaders.
Associated Press reporters Maamoun Youssef and Aya Batrawy in Cairo contributed to this report.