France stands by its law banning burqa-like Muslim veils despite a threatening new message from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday. In a recently released audio tape, bin Laden threatens to kill French citizens in revenge for France's law to ban Muslim veils that cover the face, and because France has troops in Afghanistan. Sarkozy confirmed that France believes the tape is authentic and said the country would not back down from the new rule. "Obviously, France doesn't let anyone dictate its policies, and certainly not terrorists," Sarkozy said at a European Union summit in Brussels.
Sarkozy said his country has made its choice and that it doesn't want women in France "trapped behind pieces of fabric." France says that ensuring gender equality and women's dignity- and upholding a tradition of secularism- are among the reasons France is outlawing fully covering Islamic veils, like niqabs, which hide all but the eyes. The measure has already become law but does not take effect until April. Many Muslims have expressed fears it will stigmatize them.
Asked by a reporter about French hostages being held by suspected Islamic militants, Sarkozy said France was working to secure their release.
"I didn't need a message from Mr. bin Laden to know to be worried about them," Sarkozy said.
Five French citizens and two Africans were kidnapped in Niger on Sept. 16, and an offshoot of bin Laden's terror group called al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsibility. In another abduction, two French reporters and their Afghan guides were taken hostage in Afghanistan on Dec. 29.