The leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has declared his group's support for the revolt by secessionist groups in southern Yemen.
"We in the Al Qaeda organisation support what you are doing to reject the oppression practiced on you and to resist the regime and defend yourselves," Nasser al-Wahishi said in an audio file posted on Jihadist web sites on Wednesday.
Violent protests called by southern separatists who want the south to secede from the rest of Yemen have in recent weeks attacked cities in three provinces, leaving dozens of casualties among protesters and security forces.
"What you are demanding is your right granted to you by your religion," al-Wahishi said.
The violence highlights the increasing tensions between southern and northern Yemen, 15 years after a civil war in 1994 that ended with the defeat of the southern military by northern forces led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh. North and South Yemen were united in 1990.
Southerners have often complained of discrimination since the 1994 war.
"The injustice that happened to you, God willing, will not pass without punishment. The killing of Muslims in the streets is a major and unjustified crime," al-Wahishi said.
He also denounced the Yemeni president. "We see Ali Abdullah Saleh as an infidel and an agent who set the Sharia law aside ... and today he uses all forms of oppression under the pretext of preserving the unity for the sake of which he deprives the people of their security and dignity," al-Wahishi said.
This was the third message by al-Wahishi as the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group that experts say is based in Yemen and includes militants from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.