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DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has appealed for new recruits from North African Arab countries in its fight against what it said was France's Crusader campaign in Mali, a U.S.-based intelligence monitoring website reported on Sunday.
SITE said the appeal was posted on websites used by AQIM on Saturday, urging Islamist militants being pursued by their governments to join its fighters battling French-led forces in Mali or Algeria.
France launched a ground and air operation in Mali in January to break Islamist rebels' hold on the region, saying the militants posed a risk to the security of West Africa and Europe.
"The front of the Islamic Maghreb today is in direst need of the support of the sons of Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, and Mauritania, to thwart the attack of Crusader France and defeat its agents in the region, and empower the Islamic project," AQIM said, according to a translation of the statement emailed by SITE.
However, AQIM also said that if Islamist youths in North Africa could have a greater impact in their own countries, they should stay to fight secularism and push for the imposition of sharia-based rule.
France's offensive has wrested northern Mali from Islamist occupation and killed scores of fighters. Other rebels have retreated into mountain caves and desert hiding places stocked with arms and supplies.
The Algerian army in January killed at least 32 al-Qaeda- linked militants in an assault to end a siege at a desert gas plant in which 23 hostages were killed, many of them foreigners.
(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Sophie Hares)