CAIRO, Egypt – The Islamic militant group that claimed responsibility for last week's Madrid train bombings has warned that its next targets could be the United States, Japan, Italy, Britain or Australia, an Arabic newspaper reported Thursday.
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 (search) (Al Qaeda)" 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 United States believes the Abu Hafs group lacks credibility and has only tenuous ties to Al Qaeda (search). 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.
The editor of Al-Quds al-Arabi, Abdel Bari Atwan, told The Associated Press the paper received the statement via e-mail Wednesday night. The paper has received other e-mails from this group. On the evening of the Madrid bombings, the paper released an e-mail from Abu Hafs al-Masri in which they made the first claim of responsibility.
"This statement is authentic," Atwan said, adding the group had previously claimed responsibility for last year's homicide attacks in Istanbul, Turkey, and on the U.N. headquarters in Iraq.
The same statement appeared on an Islamic Web site that has posted purported Al Qaeda declarations in the past. The site carries a note disclaiming responsibility for the contents of statements.
Spanish authorities suspect an Al Qaeda-linked cell carried out the bombings. 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 (search) and Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (search).
In its statement, Abu Hafs al-Masri said it was calling a truce in Spain to give the socialist government that was elected Sunday, three days after the train attacks, time to carry out its pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq.
The group appeared to boast it had the power to change governments.
"We change and destroy countries," the statement said. "We even influence the international economy, and this is God's blessing to us."
The statement tells American voters that Abu Hafs al-Masri supports the re-election campaign of President Bush: "We are very keen that Bush does not lose the upcoming elections."
The statement said Abu Hafs al-Masri needs what it called Bush's "idiocy and religious fanaticism" because they would "wake up" the Islamic world.
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.