Mon, Jul 26, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Downer berates Manila, Madrid

CAVING IN Australia's foreign minister slammed occupation allies for giving in to terrorists, blaming such concessions for new threats to his and other countries

AFP , SYDNEY

Australia's foreign minister yesterday accused the Philippines and Spain of prompting a militant group's threat to bomb Australia unless it withdraws from Iraq, saying they had "empowered" terrorists by meeting their demands.

Alexander Downer told Channel Nine that the threat by a group calling itself the Islamic Tawhid Group, which claims to be an Al-Qaeda branch in Europe, was a direct result of Manila and Madrid's withdrawals from Iraq.

"It's very important we send a strong message that we will not be threatened by terrorist groups," Downer said. "You have to stand up to these people, because if you don't, you empower them."

The group posted the threat overnight, reports said, warning it would carry out car bombings in both Australia and Italy unless they pull out their troops.

Downer said he had never heard of the group, which made similar threats against Poland and Bulgaria last week, but insisted that the government would never give in to terrorist threats.

"This group Islamic Tawhid Group isn't a group we're familiar with but nevertheless it's a threat, it's on the Internet, we take it seriously," Downer said.

"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 we don't give in to those threats."

After the threats to Poland and Bulgaria, Poland's security agency ABW said last week it believed the group had links to suspected senior Al-Qaeda operative Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi.

Downer said Australia's main intelligence agency was investigating the credibility of both Islamic Tawhid and the website the threat was posted on.

Downer said the threat came from the Philippines' decision to withdraw from Iraq this month to secure the release of a hostage trucker and Spain's withdrawal after the Madrid train bombing in March that claimed nearly 200 lives.

"Unfortunately these actions have encouraged terrorists to continue these threats and now we are subjected to them, the Italians are, the Poles, the Bulgarians, by this particular group," he said.

The threat, posted on an Islamist website, claimed the group had the capacity to strike where and when it wanted.

Channel Nine quoted the group as saying that if Australian troops are not withdrawn from Iraq "we will shake the ground beneath your feet as we did in Indonesia, and columns of rigged cars will not stop."

The threat cited the October 2002 Bali bombing that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, as an example of militants' ability to strike Australian interests, according to transcripts carried in the Australian media.

Australia has been one of the strongest supporters of the US-led Iraq war, contributing 2,000 troops to last year's invasion. About 850 Australian troops are still in and around Iraq.

The deployment has become a major issue in national elections expected to be held in October or November, with the opposition Labor Party pledging to bring the troops home by Christmas and the rightist government saying it will remain in Iraq "until the job is done."

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