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France probes alleged terrorist threat

Officials opened an investigation into threats against France made by an alleged Islamic group, the Justice Ministry said Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Officials are investigating threats issued by a radical Islamic group against France and its overseas interests, the Justice Ministry said Tuesday.

The shadowy group identified itself as the “Servants of Allah the Powerful and Wise,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that the group was unknown to French authorities.

Justice officials did not disclose the nature of the threats, but RTL radio reported that Le Parisien newspaper received a letter threatening Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin over France’s plan to ban Islamic head scarves and other religious apparel in schools.

“The letter only mentioned the head scarf,” Jacques Esperandieu, deputy editor of the Parisien, told RTL.

In February, an audiotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenant criticized France’s decision to ban religious symbols from schools, legislation seen by many in the Arab world as anti-Muslim.

That recording, which was attributed to Ayman al-Zawahri, said: “The decision of the French president to issue a law to prevent Muslim girls from covering their heads in schools is another example of the Crusader’s malice, which Westerners have against Muslims.”

Al-Zawahri, an Egyptian-born physician, is thought to be with bin Laden in hiding somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The tape was aired Al-Arabiya, the Dubai-based Arab-language satellite channel.

Group claims terror plots
In the past weeks, French authorities have received terror threats from another little-known group that calls itself AZF.

The group claims to have planted nine bombs along the country’s rail network and has threatened to explode them unless it is paid millions of dollars.

Information from AZF led to the recovery Feb. 21 of an explosive device buried in the bed of a railway line near Limoges in central France.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States, France has arrested dozens of terror suspects.

Authorities dismantled a terror cell in 2002 with ties to Chechen rebels and al-Qaida that planned bomb or toxic gas attacks in France and Russia. Among the suspected targets was the Russian Embassy in Paris.

The American Embassy in Paris was the target of a foiled bomb plot in 2001. Franco-Algerian Djamel Beghal, a prime suspect in the plot, was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in July 2001 and handed over to French custody.

Shoe-bomber Richard Reid, a British convert to Islam, was aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami in Dec. 2001 when he tried but failed to detonate explosives in his shoes.