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France Investigates New Terror Threats


France has opened an investigation into threats from a radical Islamic group over France's decision to ban religious attire in schools. The threats against France precede that country's regional elections on Sunday.

In a message sent to national newspaper Le Parisien, a group calling itself the "Servants of Allah the Powerful and Wise" warned about possible attacks against France and French interests abroad.

The two-page statement was addressed to French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and was signed "Movsar Baraiev commando", similar to the name of a Chechen terrorist who was killed in the hostage taking in a Moscow theater in October 2002. It was not immediately possible for authorities to assess the authenticity of the letter. The message contains a threat to "plunge France into "terror and remorse" and it states the reason as the recent law banning the wearing of the traditional Muslim headscarf and other religious symbols in schools.

French anti-terrorist police are trying to identify the authors of the message.

In a newspaper interview Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin asked French citizens to report any suspicious acts. Speaking later on national TV Tuesday evening, the Prime Minister observed that the government receives many threats, but this one is more structured than usual. He added that while authorities have to take the threat seriously, there should not be any panic.

Since the terrorist train bombings in Madrid last week, the French government has raised its anti-terrorist plan to its maximum alert level. Airports, train stations and all public places are under heightened police watch.

On Sunday, French voters will be casting ballots in regional elections that have so far gathered little interest.

The Minister of Justice is scheduled to attend a meeting with its European counterparts in Brussels Friday to coordinate the fight against terrorism within the European community.

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