Image: London police search taxi.
John D. McHugh  /  AP
Police officers examine a taxi during a random stop and search operation in Westminster, London, on Wednesday, the day after London's police chief warned an "attack on London is inevitable."
NBC News and news services
updated 3/18/2004 9:21:15 AM ET 2004-03-18T14:21:15

The Islamic militant group that claimed responsibility for last week's Madrid train bombings has warned that its next targets could be Japan, Italy, Britain or Australia, an Arabic newspaper reported Thursday. However, U.S. officials dismissed the report.

The London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi said on its Web site that it had received a statement from "The Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri (al-Qaida)" in which the group reiterated its responsibility for the March 11 attacks that killed more than 200 people and wounded more than 1,600.

"Our brigades are getting ready now for the coming strike," said the statement dated March 15. "Whose turn will it be next? Is it Japan, America, Italy, Britain, Saudi Arabia or Australia?"

The statement warned these countries that "the brigades of death are at your doors," adding that they would strike "with an iron hand at the right time and place."

The Web site did not say how the statement had been received. But Al-Quds al-Arabi has received e-mails from this group in the past. On the evening of the Madrid bombings, the paper released a copy of an e-mail from Abu Hafs al-Masri in which they made the first claim of responsibility.

Previous false claims
The United States believes the Abu Hafs group lacks credibility and has only tenuous ties to al-Qaida.

In the past, the group has claimed responsibility for events to which they were not connected -- such as last summer's blackouts in North America and Britain.

"After each terrorist attack people come out of the woodwork claiming to be al-Qaida," a senior counter-intelligence official told NBC News, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It is unclear that this group even exists and even if it does exist it is unclear that is has any connection to al-Qaida."

Officials noted that al-Qaida has never taken responsibility for an attack in the immediate aftermath, as this "Brigade" did last Thursday after the Madrid railway bombings.

Meanwhile, Spanish authorities now suspect an al-Qaida-linked cell carried out the attack. Moroccan authorities have said the emerging evidence in the Madrid attacks points toward Ansar al-Islam, a guerrilla group blamed for terrorist strikes in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Morocco. Other groups believed to be involved in the bombings are Salafia Jihadia and Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group.

The statement tells American voters that Abu Hafs al-Masri supports the re-election campaign of U.S. President George W. Bush: "We are very keen that Bush does not lose the upcoming elections."

Addressing Bush, it says: "We know that a heavyweight operation would destroy your government, and this is what we don't want. We are not going to find a bigger idiot than you."

U.N. called 'America's tail'
The group also reiterated its claim of responsibility for the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad last August which killed 22 people, including the world body's chief envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

The statement described the United Nations as "America's tail."

"The United Nations (against Islam) is a branch of the American Foreign Ministry," it said.

"The crimes of the United Nations against Islam are countless. The way to get rid of that humiliation is through holy war that will continue until doomsday," the statement said.

Parts of the statement were released Wednesday night by the editor of another London-based Arabic newspaper, Al Hayat. The editor read parts of the statement to The Associated Press in Cairo and did not provide the full text.

NBC News' Robert Windrem and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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