PARIS – PARIS (AP) — The risk of a terrorist attack on French soil has never been higher, the head of the country's counterespionage agency said in an interview released Saturday.
Bernard Squarcini told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper that France's history as a colonial master in North Africa, its military presence in Afghanistan and a proposal aimed at banning full-covering face veils in public all make the country a prime target for certain radical Islamist groups.
The risk of an attack is now as high as it was in 1995, before deadly attacks on the Paris subway by Algerian Islamic extremists, he said.
"Objectively, there are reasons for worry. The threat has never been as high" as now, the interview quotes Squarcini as saying. "We foil an average of two (planned) attacks a year, but one day or another, we're going to get hit."
Squarcini said the threat is threefold, coming from al-Qaida's North African affiliate — an Algerian insurgent group that allied itself with the international terror network several years ago and has targeted French interest in the region in the past — radical French converts to Islam and French nationals who have trained with extremist groups in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.
"All (such) scenarios are possible," Squarcini said.
He added that before the 1995 bombings on the Paris subway, which killed eight people and wounded hundreds, the risk came solely from insurgent groups from France's former colony, Algeria. One such group, the Armed Islamic Group, claimed responsibility for the 1995 attacks.
Next week, the Senate, the upper house of the French parliament, will vote on a bill that would ban the wearing of burqas or niqabs, fully covering Islamic veils, in public places in France. The proposal, which was overwhelmingly approved in the lower house of parliament in July, drew the indignation of the No. 2 of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahri, who said the drive to ban the veil amounted to discrimination against Muslim women.
France's terror alert level remains at red, the second-highest rank out of four.