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Bin Laden threatens to kill French in new audio tape

CAIRO - Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden threatens in a new audio tape to kill French citizens to avenge their country's support for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and a new law that will ban face-covering Muslim veils.

In the tape obtained by satellite TV station Al-Jazeera and posted on its website yesterday, bin Laden said France was aiding the Americans in the killing of Muslim women and children, an apparent reference to the war in Afghanistan. He said the kidnapping of five French citizens in the African nation of Niger last month was a reaction to what he called France's oppression of Muslims.

"How can it be right that you participate in the occupation of our lands, support the Americans in the killing of our women and children and yet want to live in peace and security?" said bin Laden, addressing the French in his audiotape.

"It is a simple and clear equation: As you kill, you will be killed. As you capture, you will be captured. And as you threaten our security, your security will be threatened. The way to safeguard your security is to cease your oppression and its impact on our nation, most importantly your withdrawal from the ill-fated Bush war in Afghanistan."

The authenticity of the tape could not be immediately verified but the voice resembled that of the terror group leader on previous tapes determined to be genuine.

France's interior minister said the risk of a terrorist attack against the country is "real," even as he downplayed bin Laden's threats.

Brice Hortefeux, speaking yesterday hours after the bin Laden audio was posted, said bin Laden's threats to kill French nationals "would fit into the pattern of different threats that have already been made against our country and our citizens."

France, with about 4,000 troops deployed in and near Afghanistan, passed a law this month that will ban the wearing of face-covering burqa-style Muslim veils in public starting in April.

In recent weeks, French officials have warned about a heightened terrorism risk but haven't yet raised the country's terror alert to its highest level.

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