updated 3/18/2004 3:19:03 PM ET 2004-03-18T20:19:03

Japan added police at railway stations in Tokyo and vowed to stand firm on Iraq after an Islamic militant group reportedly said Japan could be targeted by terrorists.

Japan’s conservative government, a firm supporter of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, has insisted the deadly bombings that killed 202 people in Madrid last week would not change its backing for Washington.

A London-based Arabic newspaper on Thursday published a message attributed to the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri warning that its next targets could be Japan, Italy, Britain or Australia. The group has claimed responsibility for the Madrid bombings.

Japanese leaders said threats would not influence their policies.

“Terrorist groups want to create confusion and make people worried, but we should not be swayed,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said.

Police presence bolstered
To guard against attack, Tokyo doubled to between 450 and 500 the number of police at six major railway stations in the city Thursday, including those servicing the country’s high-speed “bullet” trains. The security plan was announced on Wednesday.

The agents will check mysterious packages and inspect the baggage of suspicious travelers, officials said, adding that the bolstered presence was aimed specifically at preventing a Madrid-style assault.

Japan has no system of screening the luggage of passengers on the bullet trains, which travel at up to 185 miles per hour and carry hundreds of thousands of people a day.

The move came as the Defense Agency announced plans to form a special anti-terror commando unit for the capital. The commandos are expected to be ready this month.

Japan had been on high alert since last month, tightening security at hundreds of airports, nuclear plants and government facilities as the country stepped up its dispatch of troops on a humanitarian mission in southern Iraq.

The London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper published the Abu Hafs al-Masri message on its Web site Thursday. The statement warned of possible further attacks in several countries.

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

U.S. skeptical
The United States believes the Abu Hafs group lacks credibility and has only tenuous ties to al-Qaida.

But in October, Japan was named with other U.S. allies as possible marks on an audio tape attributed to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

The Spain bombings and the subsequent defeat of the pro-U.S. government in Madrid have rattled the Japanese government, which has struggled for months to rally support for the Iraq mission.

Public opinion in Japan was largely against the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and has been split over the deployment of troops to the region. The Japanese forces are strictly non-combat, and will be purifying water and carrying out other reconstruction tasks in the Iraqi city of Samawah.

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