CAIRO — Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden threatens in a new audio tape to kill French citizens to avenge their country's support for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and a new law that will ban face-covering Muslim veils.
In the tape obtained by satellite television station Al-Jazeera and then posted on its website on Wednesday, bin Laden said France was aiding the Americans in the killing of Muslim women and children in an apparent reference to the war in Afghanistan. He said the kidnapping of five French citizens in the African nation of Niger last month was a reaction to what he called France's oppression of Muslims.
"How can it be right that you participate in the occupation of our lands, support the Americans in the killing of our women and children and yet want to live in peace and security?" said bin Laden, addressing the French.
"It is a simple and clear equation: As you kill, you will be killed. As you capture, you will be captured. And as you threaten our security, your security will be threatened. The way to safeguard your security is to cease your oppression and its impact on our nation, most importantly your withdrawal from the ill-fated Bush war in Afghanistan."
The authenticity of the tape could not be immediately verified but the voice resembled that of the terror group leader on previous tapes determined to be genuine.
French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux told the parliament hours after the message was posted that the risk of a terror attack against the country was real and authorities' vigilance is "total," according to a report on newspaper El Figaro's website.
But he added that the threats "would merely fit into the pattern of different threats that have already been made against our country and our citizens, at home and abroad. It currently appears that these comments don't do more than justify our keeping up our response in the face of the terrorist threat."
Tapes by bin Laden and his top lieutenant, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahri, have recently been posted on Al-Jazeera website rather than on sites run by militant Muslims as has been done for years. The shift appears to reflect the unexplained technical difficulties or closures experienced by the militant sites in recent months.
France has about 4,000 troops deployed in and near Afghanistan.
"You need to think of what happened to America as a result of that unjust war," bin Laden said, again addressing the French and referring to the war in Afghanistan. "It's on the verge of bankruptcy ... and tomorrow it will retreat to beyond the Atlantic."
France passed a law this month that will ban the wearing of face-covering burqa-style Muslim veils in public starting in April. Many Muslims have expressed fears the law would stigmatize them.
"If you deemed it your right to ban (Muslim) women from wearing the hijab, then should not it be our right to expel your invading men by striking their necks?" bin Laden said.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of bin Laden's group, has claimed responsibility for the abductions of five French citizens in Niger and is believed to have taken them to neighboring Mali. The French hostages, as well as a Togolese and a Madagascar national were kidnapped on Sept. 16 while they were sleeping in their villas in the uranium mining town of Arlit.
"The kidnapping of your experts in the Niger is a reaction to your oppression of Muslims," said bin Laden.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb grew out of an Islamist insurgency movement in Algeria, merging with al-Qaida in 2006 and spreading through the Sahara and the arid Sahel region. It has increasingly been targeting French interests.
In July, the group said it executed a 78-year-old French aid worker it had taken hostage three months before. It said the killing was retaliation for the deaths of six al-Qaida members in a French-backed military operation against the group.
Also in July, the French military said it provided technical and logistical assistance to help Mauritanian forces thwart an attack by suspected al-Qaida members in northwest Africa. It said the operation left six extremists dead.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy later described that operation as a "turning point" and said France would provide training, equipment and intelligence to local troops working to fight militants in the Sahel.
A series of warnings has put France and other European countries on high alert in recent weeks, prompting the U.S. State Department to advise American citizens living or traveling in Europe to take more precautions. Speculation on the source of a potential terror threat in France has focused on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
Jenny Barchfield in Paris contributed to this report.
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