The leader of a radical Palestinian group says his guerrillas will try to carry out Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Kohmeini's death decree against British author Salman Rushdie.

"We will make an effort to carry out the death sentence against Salman Rushdie in defense of Islam, God and the Prophet," Ahmad Jibril, leader of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, said in a statement Sunday carried by state-run radio in Damascus, Syria.Jibril, a former Syrian army officer known for his close ties with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, has some 1,000 men based in the Syrian capital and Syrian-controlled territory in eastern Lebanon.

His radical, Damascus-based Palestinian group is opposed to Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.

Jibril's statement coincided with a declaration of support by Gadhafi for Khomeini's order last month to kill Rushdie and the publishers of his novel, "The Satanic Verses."

Rushdie and his wife are believed to be in hiding somewhere in Britain.

The book, considered blasphemous by Moslems, has been banned in more than 20 countries, spawned violent demonstrations and counter-protests and has ruptured relations between Iran and the West.

Britain has led a Western diplomatic campaign to isolate Iran, which gave London seven days beginning last Tuesday to change its "hostile stance" toward Khomeini's order or diplomatic relations would be severed.

Iran has turned to the Soviet Union and China for help in rebuilding an economy shattered by its 8-year-old war with Iraq, and warned Friday the death threat against Rushdie could be extended to others who insult the Islamic faith.

In London, the Sunday Times said some British artists and journalists are practicing self-censorship on Islamic subjects because of the uproar from the book.

About 400 Moslems staged a rally in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday to demand that the book be banned, that its Indian-born British author apologize and that Britain pass a law protecting Islam from slander.

In Padua, Italy, a fire caused about $7,500 damage in a chain bookstore run by a subsidiary of Arnoldo Mondadori Editore Spa, the Italian publishers of "The Satanic Verses."

Meanwhile Sunday, Iran announced it was seeking closer ties to China.