PARIS Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said on Sunday that French had been warned by Saudi Arabia that al Qaeda was targeting Europe and especially France.
"Several hours or days ago, there was a new message from the Saudis that said al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was without doubt active or planning to be active in Europe, especially France," he told French radio RTL.
"This is not about overestimating the threat or underestimating it," he said. "I am indicating, based on all these elements, that the threat is real."
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an arm of al Qaeda thought to include Yemenis and Saudis, has stepped up attacks on Yemeni and Western targets since it claimed a failed U.S. airliner bombing in December.
Impoverished Yemen, which is struggling to end a civil war in the north and a separatist rebellion in the south, is trying with U.S. help to crush AQAP, which has been based in Yemen since 2006, when Saudi Arabia mounted a counter-terrorism drive against its Saudi arm.
Hortefeux's remarks indicated that the new warning was not connected with the heightened alert in France in late September based on a tip-off that a female suicide bomber was planning to attack its transport system.
A police source told Reuters at that time that the information about the threatened attack had come from Algeria.
France has not suffered a major attack since 1995 when the Algerian Armed Islamic Group killed eight people and wounded dozens bombing a Paris metro station.
(Reporting by Thierry Leveque; writing by Nina Sovich; editing by Tim Pearce)