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Al Qaida threatens to attack Australia, Italy
Updated: 2004-07-25 09:09

Australia and Italy have 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."

Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer on Sunday vowed that his country would not give into the threats.

"We take all threats seriously but on the other hand, Australia sends a message out to the world, and that is that we won't bow to threats," Downer said.

"In the end, if we allow these sorts of threats to determine our foreign policy, then what we'll do is empower the terrorists.

"And of course if we empower the terrorists, then the terrorists will become increasingly virulent and increasingly successful."

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 US 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.

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