Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Islamic Group Vows Attacks on Churches

Al-Reuters - An unknown group has claimed responsibility for a Qatar suicide bombing that killed a Briton, and vowed to hit churches and "crusader" military bases in the region, an Internet statement posted on Tuesday said.

Qatar boosted security in the capital Doha as investigators hunted for clues of any al Qaeda involvement in Saturday's attack, the first in the Gulf Arab state which hosts the U.S. Central Command that directed the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"We claim responsibility for the historic Qatar operation, carried out by a lion of the Army of the Levant," the statement posted on a Web site used by Islamists said.

Addressing what it called "the supporters of the devil," the group warned "America, Britain and Italy and all those who have defiled the lands of Islam to be ready for the grand surprise."

"The Qatar operation is the beginning," it added.

The authenticity of the statement could not be confirmed, but a Qatari government spokesman and a London-based Islamist activist have both cast doubt on it.

"So far I do not think it is serious," Islamist Yasser al-Sirri told Reuters, adding that the statement did not have the Islamist formulations often used by militant groups.

The Army of the Levant had earlier said it carried out the attack and that it would issue a full statement later.

Qatari officials have said that 16 other people, mostly Arabs and Asians, were wounded in the bombing carried out by an Egyptian suicide bomber who detonated a car laden with explosives at a theater popular with Westerners.

Sources in Doha have said the bomber, named as Omar Ahmad Abdullah Ali, was employed at the IT department in state-run Qatar Petroleum which runs Qatar's rich oil and gas sectors.

The attack came two days after the suspected al Qaeda leader in Saudi Arabia urged militants in Qatar and other Gulf Arab states to wage holy war against "crusaders" in the region.
Witnesses in Doha said police have deployed extra patrols at roundabouts near the bombing site and around Western residential compounds and schools, some of which remained shut, probably until after the Easter holidays.

Blast-proof concrete barriers have been erected around the American School in Doha, they said.

Tuesday's statement said the Army of the Levant had no links to any group in the Palestinian territories or Lebanon -- part of the Middle East known as the Levant.

"There are crusader military bases throughout the land of Islam, inside which there are churches and idols," it said. "By God, we will get you soon and be certain that victory is near."

"We tell all our cells in the Levant and in Mohammed's Peninsula to hit the enemies by striking at their bases and churches as they destroyed our mosques ..., but avoid civilians," the statement added.

Hundreds of foreigners and Qataris took to the streets on Monday in a peaceful state-organized demonstration against the attack which sent jitters among the expatriate community in the small country, which prides itself on its security.