Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden warned France on Wednesday that its planned ban on the veil in public places and its involvement in the war in Afghanistan justified violence against its nationals.
France expressed concern and insisted on the need for vigilance, adding however that authorities were verifying the authenticity of the remarks.
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.
“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 one minute and 55 seconds.
The al-Qaeda leader warned the French government to pull its troops out of Afghanistan.
“The way to protect your security is to bring your tyranny against our nation to an end, most importantly to withdraw from the damned war of [former US president George W.] Bush in Afghanistan,” he said.
Responding to the message, French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said that France is under “real” terror threat which needs “total vigilance.”
“We do know that the [terrorist] threat is real and vigilance must be total,” Hortefeux told a National Assembly meeting in Paris.
Hortefeux — who earlier this month said that Saudi security forces warned about an al-Qaeda threat to Europe and to France in particular — said authorities were verifying the authenticity of the remarks.
The message broadcast by al-Jazeera was accompanied by a still photo of Bin Laden and a blurred picture of what appears to be policemen pulling off a woman’s veil to reveal her hair.
Bin Laden, who is believed hiding out in remote mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan, highlighted the French parliament’s passing of a law last month banning the wearing of a full-face veil in public.
The ban, which will come into force early next year if it is not overturned by senior judges, triggered criticism in some Muslim countries, with Islamic authorities in Asia warning that it could spark a violent backlash.
“As you wrongly have decided that you have the right to ban Muslim women from wearing the veil, is it not our right to drive out your conquerors by killing them?” Bin Laden asked.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner yesterday denounced the threat.
“The unacceptable threats are not new,” Kouchner told reporters, playing down Bin Laden’s influence over the North African al-Qaeda affiliate that carried out the kidnapping of the French nationals in northern Niger.
“Mr Bin Laden has taken this opportunity. It was opportunism. It’s not him, it’s not Mr Bin Laden who is holding the hostages, it’s much more complicated than that,” Kouchner said on the sidelines of a diplomatic meeting in Paris.