France Vows To Remain Alert Over Osama's Terror Threats


French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Thursday his country was in a state of ""extreme vigilance"" following new threats of attacks from Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but discounted the latter's ability to influence events from his current hideout--widely believed to be somewhere in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

He said that the terse taped warning came as no surprise, and played down the Islamic extremist leader's influence over Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)--the North African Al-Qaeda affiliate that kidnapped five French nationals in the Sahara last month.

""These unacceptable threats are not new,"" Kouchner told reporters on the sidelines of a diplomatic meeting in Paris.

""Laden has taken this opportunity. It was opportunism. It's not him, it is not Bin Laden who is holding the hostages, it is much more complicated than that,"" he added.

However, a spokesman for Kouchner later told reporters that the authenticity of the tape ""can be considered as confirmed following initial checks. It only confirms the reality of the terrorist threat.""

Kouchner refuted reports France had developed ""contacts"" with the kidnappers for the release of the hostages.

His comments came after the recorded message, purportedly from the Al-Qaeda head, linked the kidnap of the French nationals to that country's deployment of troops in Afghanistan as also the ban on the Islamic full face veil, and threatened more attacks on French interests.