September 26, 2014 / 4:35 AM / 3 years ago

Australia defense chief apologizes after race-based assault claim withdrawn

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The head of Australia's Defense Force apologized on Friday after an officer withdraw allegations he had been attacked by two men "of Middle Eastern appearance", allegations that had fueled tensions during a crackdown by counter-terrorism authorities.

The officer had claimed he was approached on Thursday by two men who assaulted him, causing minor bruising, according to police.

But Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin said the 41-year-old officer had withdrawn his claim on Friday, without giving further details.

"On behalf of the Australian Defense Force I would like to apologize to the Australian community and in particular the Middle Eastern community for any angst this has caused,” Binskin told reporters.

Australia, a staunch ally of the United States and its escalating action against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, is on high alert for attacks by radicalized Muslims or by home-grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East.

On Tuesday, an 18-year-old named as Abdul Numan Haider was shot dead by counter-terrorism police in Melbourne after he attacked two officers with a knife.

Prominent Australian Muslims say their community is being unfairly targeted by law enforcement and threatened by right-wing groups, as the government's tough policies aimed at combating radical Islamists threaten to create a backlash.

Reporting by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Nick Macfie

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