Iran on Wednesday said the country was ready to defend itself against threats byAl Qaeda, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Al Qaeda umbrella group in Iraq, threatened to wage war against Iran unless it stops supporting Shiites in Iraq within two months, according to an audiotape released Sunday on a Web site commonly used by insurgents.

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Iran's Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi told IRNA that threats by an Al Qaeda was not a "new thing" and said Iran's "security and law enforcement apparatus have been ready to defend the country."

Pourmohammadi also said that the sources of threat has not been independently verified.

Iraq's Shiite-led government is backed by the U.S. but closely allied to Iran. The United States accuses Iran of arming and financing Shiite militias in Iraq — charges Tehran denies.

Iran says it has made a significant contribution to the global campaign against terrorism by detaining Al Qaeda agents, but the United States accuses the Tehran government of harboring Al Qaeda fugitives.

American counterterrorism officials have said that a handful of senior Al Qaeda operatives who fled to Iran after the war in Afghanistan in 2001 may have developed a working relationship with a secretive military unit linked to Iran's religious hard-liners. Iran has rejected the charges.

Iran also says it has repatriated more than 500 suspected Al Qaeda operatives, most of them Saudis. It has also said that some Al Qaeda suspects would stand trial in Iranian courts for offenses committed in Iran, but no reports of such trials have emerged.

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