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Monday, August 16, 2004

International Herald Tribune > Italy gets new threats from ally of Al Qaeda

Elisabetta Povoledo/IHT IHT
Monday, August 16, 2004
MILAN A militant group linked to Al Qaeda on Sunday issued fresh threats against Italy as the country's interior minister said the government would not be intimidated and assured Italians that "high levels of security" had been put into place.

The minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, said that Italians had reacted calmly to a series of threats, but added that he could not rule out the possibility of an attack.

Pisanu was speaking at a press conference in Rome on the day the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades had set as a deadline for "a blood bath" unless Italy withdrew its troops from Iraq. "There's no place in the world that can be considered safe today," he said.

On Sunday morning, Masri Brigades, a group that claims links with Al Qaeda and has taken responsibility for a series of attacks, including the bombing in Madrid on March 11, issued an Internet statement calling for its cells to hit all possible targets because Italy had not heeded previous calls to pull its troops, numbering 3,000, from Iraq.

"The earth will be shaken under the feet of every Italian," the group wrote in Arabic on an Islamic Web site that The Associated Press described as a clearinghouse for militant-related material.

The text said that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was a target.

Pisanu said that the statement was in line with several others issued by the group. "It is similar with preceding threats," he said. "We won't underestimate it, but neither will we allow ourselves to be frightened."

Italians, he added, had not changed their plans because of the deadline, Aug. 15, known in Italy as Ferragosto, an important religious holiday.

Last week, the national security commission beefed up security measures on more than 13,000 potential targets, and police chiefs in several cities revoked holiday time off for law officers. Hospitals and municipal fire departments were also put on alert.

Some experts have questioned the credentials of the Masri Brigades and have suggested that the threats are more hyperbole than concrete. But Pisanu said the government was not ruling out the threat of action, "even without direct input from abroad."

The interior minister played down a report in Sunday's Corriere della Sera that said the police were looking for a car with French tags that passed into Italy carrying explosives. Pisanu said the police were investigating.

International Herald Tribune

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