PARIS (Reuters) - Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden wanted al Qaeda hostage takers to use their French captives to discredit President Nicolas Sarkozy and his security policy ahead of a presidential election next year, possibly by killing them, France Info radio said on its website Friday.
The news radio channel, said bin Laden had issued written instructions to members of al Qaeda’s north African offshoot, known as AQIM, on how to handle a group of hostages, including five French nationals, captured in Niger last year.
Four of the five French hostages captured last September are still being held by AQIM, after France refused to pay a 90 million euro ($123 million) ransom for their liberation.
In one of his last audio messages broadcast to the world, bin Laden had taken aim at France, saying that taking French people hostage was justified given what he said was the country’s mistreatment of its Muslim population.
The hostage taking and bin Laden’s message put French authorities on high alert for a terror attack, as France was seen as particularly vulnerable in the wake of passing a law banning Islamic full-face veils from being worn in public.
Ten years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, France’s police chief said that France had arrested 914 terror suspects since that day, convicting 224, and thwarted at least two known plots.
“Every year, two or three groups likely to commit terror attacks on the national territory are dismantled,” he told Franco Info radio Friday, adding that only 37 terror-related arrests had been made in 2011.
The radio, citing French intelligence sources, said its information came from documents found in bin Laden’s residence in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was killed last May in a raid by U.S. special forces.
The information was passed from the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency to the DCRI, France’s intelligence service for internal matters, it wrote on its website.
Magazine Paris Match also reported that bin Laden was targetting France, but said he was planning major attacks on the homeland, also sourcing the information to intelligence sources who had seen documents found in bin Laden’s Abbottobad house.
Reporting by Nick Vinocur; Editing by Louise Ireland