France is maintaining “very great vigilance” toward actions and statements by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or North Africa, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said in a briefing. The al-Qaeda affiliate threatened vengeance for President Nicolas Sarkozy’s criticism of the face-covering veils worn by some Muslim women. The Algeria-based group issued a statement on Islamic Web sites vowing to “seek vengeance against France” over Mr. Sarkozy’s comments about face-covering Muslim veils such as the burqa and niqab. The declaration could not be independently verified. “We will not tolerate such provocations and injustices, and we will take our revenge from France,” said the statement, signed by Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, calling himself “commander of al Qaeda in North Africa [Islamic Maghreb].”
The statement is dated to June 28, five days after French President Nicolas Sarkozy controversially told lawmakers that the traditional Muslim garment was “not welcome” in France. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was originally a militant Islamist movement against Algeria’s secular government in the early 90s. It has since spread its geographic and political influence.
At a recent security conference in Munich, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told European nations that they were under direct threat from Islamist extremists and that this phenomenon would not go away. Gates tied European security to NATO success in Afghanistan. In fact, Western intelligence services have recently established operational links between al-Qaida in Afghanistan and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) whose goals include striking at the heart of Europe. Al-Qaida has not made any secrets of its eagerness to target Europe. Indeed, al-Qaida’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has repeatedly threatened Europe. In 2007, numerous al-Qaida-linked plots were foiled in Europe and several cells were dismantled in France, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, Germany and the UK. This led Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s anti-terror chief, to say last November that al-Qaida was the biggest threat to Europe. Olivier Guitta reports.
MADRID – Spanish Prime Minister Jos_ Luis Rodr_guez Zapatero on Friday downplayed the latest threat against Spain by the terrorist organisation Al Qaeda, saying the government was working hard to prevent attacks against Spanish interests. “We’ve been receiving more or less explicit threats for a long time now (and) it’s nothing new although this time it’s gotten a lot of press play,” he said in a radio interview. In a video released this week, Al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman al Zawahiri, urged Muslims to “clean the Islamic Maghreb of the sons of France and Spain.”