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Threat to France as Al-Qaeda enrols Algerian Islamists

Associated Press | September 14, 2006

A radical Algerian Islamist group that has singled out France as its sworn enemy officially placed itself at Al-Qaeda's orders, vowing to support the terror network's war on "crusaders" worldwide.

The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), an armed movement which has long been linked to Al-Qaeda, formally pledged allegiance to the network's chief Osama bin Laden in a statement released online.

"Our soldiers are at his call so that he may strike who and where he likes," said a text signed by the group's leader Abu Mossaab Abdelwadud, who also vowed to pursue the group's "jihad" or holy war against the Algerian authorities.

Bin Laden's right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahiri earlier announced that the group -- long known to have links to Al-Qaeda -- was now part of the network, in a video released on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Zawahari called on the GSPC to step up its attacks against France, the United States and their allies.

"We pray to God that they will be a thorn in the side of the American and French crusaders and their allies," he said.

Reacting to the tape, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin confirmed that France was in a "situation of risk".

"I have examined all the information we have at our disposal on the question, which confirms there is cause for concern," he told reporters.

"We must not lower our guard. There is indeed a situation of risk and we must be continually adapting our response. We must be extremely vigilant and attentive -- as we have been now for several years," Villepin said.

France lifted its terrorism alert level to "red", the third highest on a four-colour scale, after last year's bombings in London.

French terrorism analyst Roland Jacquard said the Al-Qaeda recording amounted to a "fatwa, a religious order against France" -- and as such should be taken seriously.

France has come under fire from Islamic radicals over its 2004 ban on religious insignia -- including the Muslim headscarf -- in state schools, as well as for its support for Algeria's government.

The GSPC last year singled out France as its "enemy number one" and issued a call for action against it.

The group was created from a split in the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the main force in Algeria's long insurgency which was also responsible for a series of bombings in France in 1995.

Security experts said the GSPC would provide Al-Qaeda with a valuable new pool of militants across Europe, where it is thought to have a large support network.

Alain Chouet, a former official with the French intelligence agency DGSE, added that Al-Qaeda's decision to enlist the group was a sign of its own operational difficulties.

"Al-Qaeda was traditionally wary of the Algerian group, thought to be heavily infiltrated by the Algerian secret service.

"But its problem is that it no longer has much room for manoeuvre. It has less and less operational capacity throughout the world. So if the Algerians are ready to act and can do so under the Al-Qaeda banner, so much the better."

Anne Guidicelli, head of France's Terrorisc security consultancy, said Zawahiri was "officialising what was an organic link".

"He used an Arab term that means 'integrate'. The GSPC can now draw on the organisation's means. But it is especially Al-Qaeda that needs the Algerian networks in Europe," she said.

For another security source, "this message officialises the fact that the GSPC is an armed branch of Al-Qaeda designed to strike in France."

"What is worrying is that the voice of Al-Qaeda's leaders carries a lot of weight with the jihadists. It can spur them into action. So that reinforces the threat and the concern," he said.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy dismissed GSPC's links to Al-Qaeda as nothing new and said that the country remained on high alert.

"We have known since September 11, 2003 that that GSPC undertook an act of allegiance to Al-Qaeda... There is nothing new," Sarkozy said on French television channel France 2, adding that it was no coincidence that Al-Qaeda publicly accepted the allegiance on September 11, 2006.

"The terrorist threat against France is high and permanent and we know that we have to show absolute vigilance."

 

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