France under 'real' terror threat: minister
France faces a "real" terror threat that needs "total vigilance", French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said Wednesday, after Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden threatened attacks against its nationals.
"We do know that the (terrorist) threat is real and vigilance must be total," Hortefeux told a National Assembly meeting.
Bin Laden warned France earlier Wednesday that its planned ban on the burqa, the Islamic full-face veil, in public places and its involvement in the war in Afghanistan justified violence against its nationals.
"Based on what we currently know, these declarations only justify maintaining our response based on the terrorist threat," Hortefeux said, referring to France's Vigipirate national security system which is now red alert -- one down from the highest scarlet level.
In an audio recording aired by Al-Jazeera television, bin Laden said last month's kidnapping of seven foreigners, five of them French, in the Sahara desert in northern Niger was a warning.
He addressed his message the French people, saying he wanted to set out "the reasons for threatening your security and taking your people as prisoners."
"How could you take part in occupying our countries and support the Americans in killing our children and women, and then expect to live in peace and security?" bin Laden asked.
"It is very simple -- as you kill, you will be killed, as you take hostages, you will be taken hostages, and as you compromise our security, we will compromise your security," he said in the message, which lasted 1 minute 55 seconds.
The Al-Qaeda leader warned the French government to pull its troops out of Afghanistan.
Hortefeux said authorities were verifying the authenticity of the remarks.
"As far as we know, these statements can only justify maintaining our response to the terrorist threat," he said.
"Supposing they're authentic they would be part of various threats that have been made against our country and our nationals, abroad and in France," he added.
On October 17, Hortefeux said that Saudi security forces warned about an Al-Qaeda threat to Europe and to France in particular.
In September, he also mentioned two other threats -- one from Interpol and another of a possible attack by a female suicide bomber.
Western security officials have also warned that Al-Qaeda may be planning attacks in Europe similar to those that struck Mumbai in 2008.
Hortefeux said that 84 Islamist activists had been questioned in France since the beginning of 2010, of which 27 have been detained.
© 2010 AFP