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New Terrorist Threat in France - 2004-03-17

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy says a threat from an obscure Islamic group does not bear the hallmarks of the usual statements from Islamic extremists. However, Mr. Sarkozy says the risk still must be taken seriously.

He made the comments to reporters Wednesday in Paris, one day after French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin appeared on French television, cautioning against panic in reaction to the threat. He said the government receives many threats, but noted this one appears to be more structured than usual, and was being taken seriously.

A group calling itself "Servants of Allah, the Powerful and Wise" sent letters to French newspapers with a message threatening to "plunge France into terror and remorse" because of a new French law banning Muslim headscarves and other religious symbols in public schools.

The two-page note issued ahead of regional elections across France on Sunday warned of possible attacks against French interests at home and abroad.

The letter was addressed to the prime minister, and signed "Movsar Baraiev, commando" -- similar to the name of the Chechen rebel who led a deadly hostage-taking raid on a Moscow theater in 2002. He was later killed when Russian troops stormed the building.

French anti-terrorism officials have been at maximum alert since last week's train bombings in Madrid. Security has been boosted across major French cities and at airports, train stations, and public places.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.