Bin Laden targets France, blasts burqa ban and Afghan war
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In an audio tape aired on Al Jazeera television on Wednesday al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden targeted French interests, claiming the country’s burqa ban and the presence of French troops in Afghanistan justified the killing of French nationals.
In what appears to be his first message specifically targeting France, al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden threatened to kill French citizens and attack French interests in retaliation for the country’s policies regarding Muslims in an audio statement aired Wednesday on Al Jazeera TV station.
The latest bin Laden message specifically mentioned the recent French moves to ban the burqa and said it justified violence against French people.
"As you wrongly have decided that you have the right to ban Muslim women from wearing the veil, is it not our right to expel your invading men by attacking them?" bin Laden asked.
Speaking to FRANCE 24, Mathieu Guidere, an expert on North African radical groups and author of “The New Terrorists,” said the latest message marked the first time bin Laden has specifically targeted his message at the French people.
“In the past, France has been mentioned with other Western countries such as the US, Great Britain and Germany,” said Guidere, referring to previous bin Laden message. “This is the first time France is specifically targeted.”
A day after the message was broadcast, French officials said the tape appeared to be authentic. Speaking to reporters in Paris Thursday, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said the tape's "authenticity can be considered established based on initial verifications."
The message, bearing the as-Sahab imprint, which is the media arm linked with al Qaeda’s top leadership, said the September kidnapping of French nationals in Niger was in retaliation for “the tyranny” France “practices against our Muslim nation."
Seven foreign nationals – including five French citizens – were kidnapped in a uranium-mining town in the northern African nation of Niger last month.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the terror group’s North Africa branch, has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
Bin Laden calls for withdrawal of French troops in Afghanistan
The September kidnapping marked an escalation of threats by AQIM against France in the Sahel region, a remote transition belt between the Sahara desert and the African savannah that straddles several national borders.
In his latest message, bin Laden called on France to stop its long-standing involvement in North and West Africa.
“How could it be fair that you intervene in the affairs of Muslims, in North and West Africa in particular, support your proxies [agents] against us, and take a lot of our wealth in suspicious deals, while our people there suffer various forms of poverty and despair?” he asked.
Bin Laden also warned that the presence of French troops in Afghanistan posed a threat to French security.
"The way to preserve your security is to end all aspects of your injustices against our Muslim nation, the most important of which is for you to withdraw from (former US president George W.) Bush's loathed war in Afghanistan," bin Laden said.
"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?" he asked.
In recent weeks, France has been on a terror alert as the governments of Britain and France issued travel warnings due to security concerns in Western Europe.
Responding to the bin Laden tape Wednesday, French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said the message, if authentic, justified the maintenance of the current terror threat level.
Despite the recent terror threats, France has maintained its current threat setting, which is the second highest level.
Close links between AQIM and al Qaeda central command
According to Guidere, bin Laden’s latest message was a sign of close cooperation between AQIM and senior al Qaeda leaders based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, which experts refer to as al Qaeda central command.
“The implication of this message is it that it means the connection between AQIM and al Qaeda central command is close and that AQIM is building the same ideology and modus operandi as al Qaeda central command,” said Guidere.
AQIM was born out of the remnants of Algerian Islamist groups that waged a bloody insurgency against the Algerian security services in the 1990s. In 2006, the Algerian radical group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (known by its French acronym GSPC) officially declared its merger with al Qaeda to become the terror group’s North African affiliate.
“Until recently, AQIM was not interested in global jihad, they had a more local focus,” explained Guidere. “The group is gaining in notoriety and I think this is related to the rise of Abou Zeid in the southern region.”
AQIM is loosely comprised of a cluster of “katibas” of brigades, many of them autonomously funded and run.
Experts say AQIM northern katiba is headed by Abdelmalek Droukdel, who is believed to be in Algeria.
The southern katiba is headed by Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a hardliner believed to be responsible for last year’s execution of British tourist Edwin Dyer and French aid worker Michel Germaneau.
According to Guidere, Droukdel and Abou Zeid share the same background since the two men participated in the brutal 1990s Algerian civil war. “But Abou Zeid is more interested in global terrorism,” explained Guidere. “He is more radical and more religious.”
Guidere conculded by stating that Wednesday’s message by bin Laden was a confirmation of the very real terror threats now facing France.