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Alleged militant threat to Australia and Italy

Group linked to al Qaeda warns of 'columns of car bombs'


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(CNN) -- Australia and Italy have received warnings through a statement purportedly from militants linked to al Qaeda that demanded those countries withdraw troops from Iraq.

The message was posted on an Islamist Web site Saturday and was signed by a group identifying itself as Islamic Unification (Islamic Tawhid), an al Qaeda-linked organization in Europe.

To Italy, which has about 2,700 troops in Iraq, the militants warned "you will have columns of car bombs shaking your cities," if the government maintains its military presence in Iraq.

The warning also addressed the Australian government, which has about 880 military personnel and another 120 security forces in Iraq.

"We ask you to leave Iraq," the message said. "If not, we will turn your homeland into a bloodbath. ... We will shake the ground under your feet as we did in Indonesia, and the car bombs will not stop coming, God willing.

"Your fate will be like the Americans if you don't answer our demands. We will turn your day and night into hell.

"We can harm your interests in Islamic and Arab countries. Follow the path of the Philippines and Spain. This is the path that will give you security."

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Sunday said Canberra was taking the threat seriously, but would not be backing down.

"What it (the threat) does is, it reminds us we have to be absolutely determined in the face of the threats of terrorists to make sure we don't give in to those threats," Downer told Nine Network television.

Downer said the Spanish troop withdrawal and the Philippines decision to pull out troops to save the life of a Filipino hostage had encouraged terrorists to continue threats.

"It is very important we send a strong message that we will not be threatened by terrorist groups. Terrorist groups will not determine the policy of the Australian government or the Australian people," he said.

Spain pulled its 1,300 troops from Iraq last month. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the deadly terror attacks on commuter trains in Madrid that killed 190 people and wounded 2,000 in March.

Election analysts say the bombings and the government's subsequent reaction were factors in the election, but there is debate over how big a role they played in the outcome.

Some say the terrorists won by persuading Spain to vote out Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a key U.S. ally in the Iraq war, though others say Aznar's insistence on blaming Basque separatists, not Islamist terrorists, tipped the electorate against him.

The Philippines withdrew its 51 humanitarian troops a month early to secure the release of a Filipino hostage in Iraq.

There has been a wave of abductions of foreigners by insurgents in Iraq.

Earlier Saturday, gunmen seized the chief of a state-owned construction company.

Meanwhile, negotiators worked doggedly to free a senior Egyptian diplomat and seven foreign truck drivers abducted by insurgents. (Full story)


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