PARIS, March 16 (AFP) – An unknown Muslim group on Tuesday threatened to attack France and its interests abroad, linking the threat to the government’s controversial ban of headscarves and other religious insignia in state schools, officials said.
The threat by a group calling itself “Servants of Allah, the Powerful and Wise One” came in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and sent to two of the country’s newspapers, Le Parisien and Le Monde.
Raffarin said France gets plenty of threats, but that this one seemed more structured than the others, which is why the government was taking it seriously.
But he said the letter, which told Muslims to avoid crowded areas and referred to Charles Martel, who defeated the Arabs at Poitiers in the year 732.
The letter threatened to strike “blindly and violently” unless France withdrew the headscarves law.
Raffarin said there was no need for exaggerated concern. He said the government was boosting security through its Vigipirate anti-terrorism plan and intensifying the exchange of intelligence.
The prime minister added that he had ordered the immediate release of news about the letter and would continue to keep the public informed about the situation.
“I will say with this forcefully, there is no need to be afraid,” Raffarin said.
Paris prosecutors immediately opened an inquiry upon receiving the two-page letter from Le Parisien, turning over the investigation to anti-terrorism police, the justice ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said the message “included threats against both the national territory and our interests abroad.”
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told AFP that experts were “in the process of analyzing” the threats – which came five days after Thursday’s devastating train bombings in Madrid that left 201 people dead.
Both Le Parisien and Le Monde said the letter was signed “Mosvar Barayev commando”.
The signature was similar to Movsar Barayev, the leader of a Chechen commando that took hundreds of people hostage in a Moscow theater in October 2002. Barayev was killed when Russian troops stormed the venue.
Le Parisien’s news director Christian de Villeneuve told AFP that the letter “threatens France with reprisal attacks” following the adoption earlier this month of the law banning the wearing of headscarves in state schools.
Sources close to the investigation told AFP that the letter threatened to punish France for its attitude towards Islam, deemed by the writers to be hostile on both the domestic and international levels.
The letter demanded “unrealistic” changes to French policy, the sources said.
The group calling itself “Servants of Allah, the Powerful and Wise One” was until now unknown to French intelligence services, which were on Tuesday in the process of researching the organisation.
“The name of this group is unknown in this format,” said a police source.”There is no stamp nor references to chapters of the Koran, and the only text accompanying the threatening letter is a copy of the first page of an edition of the Koran.”
On February 10, France’s lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, voted through the bill banning the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in state schools. The Senate approved the measure on March 3.
The law prohibits headscarves, Jewish skullcaps, large Christian crosses and other conspicuous religious symbols in state schools. The ban could extend to beards and bandanas if they are deemed to be religious in nature.
Thousands marched in Paris and in cities across the Arab world to protest the French legislation, with Muslims charging it was a form of discrimination.
Raffarin has called a meeting of parliamentary leaders on Thursday to discuss “terrorist risks” in France and the government’s security plans.
Earlier Tuesday, French President Jacques Chirac said after talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder: “France is not currently a specific target, but like all democracies, it is not immune from terrorist acts.”
Subject: France news