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Australia defiant on terror threat

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

Downer said that by not being firm, other countries had encouraged the militants and hostage-takers.
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(CNN) -- Australia will not give in to threats of attack made by a group claiming to be the European wing of al Qaeda, but is taking the warning seriously, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Sunday.

Australia and Italy received terror 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."

Downer said the threat was by a group unfamiliar to the government.

"Nevertheless it's a threat, it's on the Internet, we take it seriously," he told the Nine Network Sunday program.

"What it does is, it reminds us that we have to be absolutely determined in the face of the threats of terrorists to make sure that we don't give in to those threats."

On Wednesday, the previously unheard-of group threatened Bulgaria and Poland with attacks if they did not leave Iraq.

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.

"So now we are subjected, as the Italians are, and the Poles and the Bulgarians, from this particular group, to further threats," he said.

"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."

Downer said the Philippines decision had also fuelled the taking of hostages.

"This is a problem with the Filipino decision," he said. "They've acceded to the demands of terrorists, and within a day or so of the Filipinos doing that, six more people were taken hostage in Iraq." (Philippines angry at Downer)

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 foreign nationals by insurgents in Iraq.

On 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)

-- Web site translation by CNN Editor Waffa Munayyer.

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