AP Interview: French minister says terror threat real but not worth raising alert level

By Nicolas Garriga, AP
Sunday, October 3, 2010

French minister: Terror threat unchanged but real

PARIS — France’s interior minister said Sunday that the threat of a terrorist attack is real, but that the country is not raising its alert level despite new U.S. warnings to American travelers in Europe.

In an interview with AP Television News, Brice Hortefeux said French authorities are working closely with U.S. authorities and studying information about new threats.

“We are analyzing what they say. We are taking their comments into account. And we are naturally vigilant,” Hortefeux said.

He provided no details however of where the threats might be coming from or what or whom they might be targeting.

The U.S. government issued a travel alert Sunday warning Americans of potential terrorist threats in Europe and urging them to be vigilant in public places, including tourist spots and transportation hubs.

Hortefeux said France’s terrorism alert level is remaining at “red,” the second-highest on a four-shade scale. France has maintained its alert at red since bombings in London in 2005.

“There is no change. The threat is real. Our vigilance is total,” he said. He said there was a “concordant array of information for the past several days, which the Americans have confirmed today.”

French media has accused President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government of exaggerating the terrorism threat in recent weeks to distract public attention from his low popularity and divisive spending cutbacks.

Hortefeux warned against unnecessarily scaring people about the threat in France, but added, “at the same time, we should not be in denial of reality.”

France, which saw a string of terrorist attacks by Algerian militants in the 1990s, is seen as a potential target for several reasons, including its involvement in the war in Afghanistan. A Frenchman suspected of links to recruiting fighters for Afghanistan was arrested recently in Italy, a French official said Sunday.

Separately, al-Qaida’s North African branch has issued warnings to France over a new law on banning burqa-style Islamic veils. The group also claimed responsibility for the recent abduction of five French nationals and two Africans in northern Niger.

The Eiffel Tower has been briefly evacuated twice in recent weeks after call-in bomb threats. No one claimed responsibility for either call and no explosives were found.

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