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Al-Qaida group threatens Europe with new attacks

| Saturday, July 3, 2004

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- The group that claimed responsibility for deadly train bombings in Spain warned European nations that they have only two weeks to withdraw troops from Iraq or face the consequences, a pan-Arab newspaper reported Friday.

The statement, carried by the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, referred to the three-month cease-fire for attacks in Europe declared by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden on April 15.

The London-based paper said it had received a statement from the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri (al-Qaida), the group that claimed responsibility for the March 11 Madrid train bombings that killed about 200 people.

"To the European people: Only a few days remain for you to accept the truce offered by bin Laden. Otherwise you will have nobody but yourself to blame," the paper quoted the statement as saying.

The paper said it had received a statement from the "Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri (al-Qaida)," the group that claimed responsibility for the March 11 train bombings in Madrid, Spain, that killed 190 people.

U.S. officials and some terrorism experts believe the group lacks credibility and has only tenuous ties to al-Qaida.

It has claimed responsibility for events to which it was almost certainly not connected, including power blackouts in North America and Britain.

In Germany, Interior Ministry spokesman Rainer Lingenthal said "these statements are to be taken with caution and are probably not especially credible."

"The German government will, like every democratic constitutional nation, not bend to any ultimatums of a criminal like bin Laden," Lingenthal said.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, visiting Paris, said his government would "take these threats seriously," the Apcom news agency reported.

In the April 15 audiotape, bin Laden gave Europeans three months to withdraw their troops from what he called the countries of the Muslim nation. He warned against any "aggression" against countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

At least seven European nations have troops serving in the multinational force in Iraq: Britain, Italy, Poland, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Romania and Denmark. Spain had troops in Iraq, but a government elected shortly after the Madrid bombings pulled them out, fulfilling a campaign promise.

Asharq al-Awsat, whose offices were closed Friday for the Islamic day of prayer, did not say how it received the statement. The group previously has sent e-mails to newspapers.

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