Group warns Italy to pull troops from Iraq

CAIRO, Egypt, AP

An online statement purportedly from an Islamic militant group threatened the Netherlands and Italy with “bloodbaths” if they don’t withdraw their troops from Iraq.

There was no way to authenticate the statement, which appeared late Sunday on a Web site known as a clearing house for militant-related material.

“We advise you to withdraw the Dutch troops from Iraq, otherwise we will not be responsible for the retaliation which will not be through the Internet, but through our special means,” warned the Jamaat al-Tawhid al-Islamiya group.

“Wait for the hell which will turn your nights into bloodbaths,” the statement said, addressing all European countries, especially the Netherlands and Italy, that have sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The new statement addressed Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi by name and said: “You have defied the soldiers of Islam so wait for the Islamic quake.”

The statement was signed by the Omar el Mukhtar Brigade of the Jamaat al-Tawhid al-Islamiya, or Group of Islamic Monotheism. Omar el-Mukhtar was a Libyan nationalist who fought against the Italian occupation and was hanged in 1931.

On July 29, the little-known group posted a statement on an Islamic Web site warning Arab countries against participation in Saudi-proposed Muslim force for Iraq.

The Netherlands has approximately 1,350 troops in southern Iraq. After a firefight that left one Dutch military policeman dead and five other military personnel seriously wounded, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said on Sunday the incident should not deter efforts to bring peace and stability to southern Iraq.

Monday’s warning to Italy, which has some 3,000 troops in Iraq, was the second in the past 24 hours.

A statement released Sunday in the name of Abu-Hafs al-Masri Brigades, an al Qaida-linked group, said the Italian government has “dug its grave by its own hands” after it ignored a warning to withdraw its troops from Iraq by Aug. 15. But on its own Web site, the group has denied giving a deadline.