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Al-Qaida-linked group warns Europe of new attacks unless it withdraws troops

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ The group that claimed responsibility for the Madrid train bombings 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 run by the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper referred to a 90 day cease-fire for attacks in Europe that the leader of al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, declared on April 15.

``To the European people: only 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 which claimed responsibility for the March 11 train bombings in Madrid that killed about 200 people.

In the April 15 audio tape, bin Laden gave Europeans three months to withdraw their troops from what he called the countries of the Muslim nation. Bin Laden 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, but previously this group has sent e-mails to newspapers.

U.S. officials and some terrorism experts believe the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri (al-Qaida) lacks credibility and has only tenuous ties to al-Qaida. The group has claimed responsibility for events to which it was almost certainly not connected, including power blackouts in North America and Britain.
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