Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi blamed international terrorism and al-Qaeda for brainwashing youth and spurring the turmoil in his country.

"What is happening now is not the people's power. It is international terrorism led by al-Qaeda," Gadhafi said in a rambling 30-minute phone call broadcast live on state television Thursday.

"These people who are duping our children are insane and they couldn't care less if your country is completely destroyed.... You are responsible for what happens to your country, be it peace or war."

Gadhafi accused the extremist Islamic group for launching a campaign through mobile phones to harm Libyan youth and take them away from their parents.

He also blamed excessive use of drugs by youth, and urged their parents to reassert their authority.

"Come out of your homes. Get your children back home. Arrest the offenders and take them to court. Rehabilitate your children," said Gadhafi, who appeared to be directing his speech to residents of Zawiya, a key city near an oil port and refineries, and the scene of violent uprisings.

He offered his condolences to the families of four security officers killed in clashes that have gripped the country since Feb. 18. At least 1,000 civilians have also been killed.

Gadhafi said he couldn't understand why he had to leave. "There are people who have been in power longer than me, like Queen Elizabeth of Britain, and nothing has happened to her."

He also lobbed a warning at foreign powers, saying, "If the situation gets worse, the oil flow will stop."

Meanwhile, army units and militiamen loyal to Gadhafi struck back against protesters who have risen up in cities close to Tripoli Thursday, attacking a mosque where many had taken refuge and blasting its minaret and opening fire on others protecting a local airport.

The assaults aimed to push back a rebellion that has moved closer to Gadhafi's bastion in the capital, Tripoli. The revolt has already broken away nearly the eastern half of Libya and unraveled parts of Gadhafi's regime.

Another defection

In the latest blow to the Libyan leader, a cousin who is one of his closest aides, Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, announced that he has defected to Egypt in protest against the regime's bloody crackdown against the uprising, denouncing what he called "grave violations to human rights and human and international laws."

libya-map

In the city of Zawiya, 50 kilometres west of Tripoli, an army unit attacked a mosque where protesters had been camping inside and in a lot outside for several days, calling for Gadhafi's ouster, a witness said.

The soldiers opened fire with automatic weapons and hit the mosque's minaret with anti-aircraft missiles, he said. Some of the young men among the protesters had hunting rifles.

A doctor at a field hospital set up at the mosque said he saw 10 dead bodies, while the Libyan news website, Qureyna, said 23 people were killed.

An eyewitness said that on Wednesday an envoy from Gadhafi had come to the city and warned protesters, "Either leave or you will see a massacre."

After the assault, thousands massed in the city's main Martyrs Square, shouting "leave, leave," in reference to Gadhafi, he said.

"People came to send a clear message: we are not afraid of death or your bullets," he said. "This regime will regret it. History will not forgive them."

The other attack came at a small airport outside Misrata Libya's third largest city, where rebels claimed control on Wednesday. Militiamen on Thursday attacked a line of residents who were protecting the facility, opening fire with rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, said a resident who saw the assault

"They left piles of human remains and [a] swamp of blood," he said. "The hospitals are packed with those killed and injured."

Seven people were reported killed in the fighting in Misrata, along with 50 injured, a medical official said.

Country divided

After the attack ended before noon, another Misrata resident said the local radio, now in opposition hands, urged people to march on the airport in support of the protesters. Both residents said the rebellion continues to control the city, which is about 200 kilometres east of Tripoli.

They and other witnesses around Libya spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Gadhafi's crackdown has so far helped him maintain control of Tripoli, a city that holds about a third of Libya's six million people. But the uprising by protesters, backed by army units that joined their ranks, has divided the country and threatened to push it toward civil war.

The leader's cousin, Gadhaf al-Dam, is one of the most high-level defections to hit the regime so far. It comes after the justice minister, the interior minister and many ambassadors around the world sided with the protesters.

Gadhaf al-Dam belonged to Gadhafi's inner circle, officially his liaison with Egypt, but he also served as Gadhafi's envoy to other world leaders and frequently appeared by his side.

International momentum has been building for action to punish Gadhafi's regime for the bloodshed.

The UN Security Council meets Friday to weigh actions against Gadhafi's regime. Those actions could include sanctions.

France's UN delegation said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will attend the session, scheduled to start at 3 p.m. ET Friday.

Meanwhile, the United States is backing a European proposal to suspend Libya from the United Nations' top human rights body over possible crimes against humanity tied to the crackdown on protesters.

The proposal regarding the UN's Human Rights Council was added to a resolution proposed by European Union members ahead of an emergency meeting on Libya on Friday in Geneva.

The EU also wants the council to approve a UN-led probe into "gross and systematic violations of human rights by the Libyan authorities," and to condemn violence against protesters and others as possible crimes against humanity.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in a broad effort to get Gadhafi to end the violence.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said all options are still open for negotiation, including the possibility of military action.

NATO's chief, meanwhile, said the military alliance will stay out of the conflict. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a visit to Ukraine that the alliance "has no plans to intervene."

With files from The Associated Press