Al Qaeda threat to France played down by minister

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has talked down Al Qaeda’s threat to attack France's rail network, after revelations in a German newspaper this week. Valls reiterated however that “a terrorist threat is present” in France.

Al Qaeda threat to France played down by minister
Gare de Lyon, packed during the busy holiday season. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls this week rejected claims Al Qaeda had specifically targeted France's rail network. Photo: B. Guay/AFP

Valls was responding to claims in German newspaper Bild on Monday, that the US National Security Agency had listened in on a senior-level Al Qaeda teleconference, where plans to target Europe’s rail system were discussed.

“Our [intelligence] services have produced not a single piece of evidence which lends credibility to these [claims],” Valls told French radio RTL.

“That’s not to say that our vigilance is not total,” he added.

That caution regarding Monday’s NSA claims was echoed by an unnamed source within the French intelligence services, who told France's TF1 TV there had been no threat to “specifically target France.”

“French intelligence agents haven’t received any threat to specifically target France, but there are some worrying elements for northern Europe as a whole,” the source added.

Valls, for his part, reiterated that France was currently on a “Level Red” terrorist alert – the second-highest available threat level.

“Trains, stations and airports, especially during this period of people returning from summer holidays, have all been the subject of regular surveillance measures and security operations,” he said.

The minister warned, however, that the terrorist threat to France was still very real.

“The terrorist threat is present. We’re not minimising that. It doesn’t only come from organized outside groups like Al Qaeda…but also from within, due to the radicalisation of a certain number of individuals and groups who could act,” he added.

France has only once raised its terror alert to the highest level, scarlet – that was in March 2012, when Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah went on a killing spree in and around the southern city of Toulouse.

In January, the alert was raised to “reinforced red” when leaders of militant Islamist groups under attack in Mali warned that France had "opened the doors of hell" by unleashing its warplanes and called on fellow extremists to hit back on French soil.

A week later, the Mauritanian spokesman for a terrorist group responsible for a deadly kidnapping at the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria, delivered a chilling warning to the French public.

In a warning deliberately aimed to stir up fear in France, the spokesman, who called himself Joulaybib, said there would be repeats of recent terror attacks carried out on French soil by self-proclaimed Islamist extremists.

“I hope France realizes that there will be dozens of Merahs and Kelkals," Joulaybib said.

Khaled Khelkal was an Algerian terrorist who took part in a series of bomb attacks on the Paris metro in 1995.

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French mum named Alic Aïda barred from US

A young French mum was left stunned this week when she was barred from boarding a flight to New York after being told she was blacklisted. The reason, she says, is the name on her passport, Alic Aïda, which when pronounced (wrongly) can sound like Al Qaeda.

French mum named Alic Aïda barred from US
Was a French mum barred from entering the US because her name sounds like Al Qaeda when pronounced wrongly? Photo: Sergey Vladimiriv/Flickr

A French woman was all set for a holiday to New York with her husband and their two children on Wednesday but was stopped as she was about to board the plane at Geneva airport.

According to the woman, whose first name is Aïda, second name Alic, she was told by a boarding official with the Swiss airlines that they had received notice from US border authorities, informing them that she was barred from entering the States.

“At first I thought it was a joke, then I realized our trip was not going to happen,” she told Dauphiné libéré.

“To be on a blacklist like a terrorist, you become paranoid,” said Alic, who is from the Savoie region of south-eastern France.

Wondering why she ended up being barred from the United States territory the young woman, who had painted the colours of the US flag on her finger nails in preparation for the trip, could only think of one reason – her name.

On her passport her surname Alic appears then her first name Aïda.

“Alic Aida, Al Qaeda. When friends make the play on words to try and pull my leg, I am used to it, but not this. Especially since my name is actually pronounced Alitch. It is of Yugoslav origin. And now here I am labelled as a risk.”

According to Europe1 the young woman called the American consulate in Lyon to try and find out the reason why she was barred from boarding the plane but was unable to find out.

A spokesman for Swiss airlines confirmed to The Local on Friday that they had been informed by US border authorities not to allow Alic to board the plane, but they were not informed of the reason why.

“The US sent us a notice and we have a duty as Swiss airlines to respect their decision,” the spokesperson said. “They don’t tell us the reason why people can’t board.”

In a statement to The Local the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said: "The United States has been and continues to be a welcoming nation. U.S. Customs and Border Protection not only protects U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents in the country but also wants to ensure the safety of our international travellers who come to visit, study and conduct legitimate business in our country.

"Our dual mission is to facilitate travel in the United States while we secure our borders, our people and our visitors from those that would do us harm like terrorists and terrorist weapons, criminals, and contraband.

"While we are not at liberty to discuss an individual’s processing due to the Privacy Act, our CBP officers are charged with enforcing not only immigration and customs laws, but they also enforce over 400 laws for 40 other agencies and have stopped thousands of violators of U.S. law."