Qaeda plot to kidnap French in Algeria foiled -paper

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PARIS, Sep 21 (Reuters) Two employees of a French company working in Algeria were urgently sent back to France this month after intelligence suggested that a branch of al Qaeda was planning to kidnap them, newspaper Le Monde reported today.

The French daily said Algerian intelligence services had received information in early September indicating that al Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb wanted to kidnap French people, whom French and Algerian authorities identified as two employees of airport operator Aeroports de Paris.

Al Qaeda's second in command urged North Africa's Muslims in a video tape posted yesterday to ''cleanse'' their land of Spanish and French nationals as a way to restore Muslim rule that once stretched into southern Europe.

The two employees were working at the main airport for Algiers, Houari-Boumediene, which is operated by Aeroports de Paris.

One of them was on an assignment that was due to end on Sept. 26, while the other was due to return to France weeks later, Le Monde said.

Aeroports de Paris, which operates the main Paris airports confirmed that Algerian authorities had informed it of a ''threat'' and that it had sent two employees back to France, but did not provide details of the threat.

''It changes nothing for us regarding our work in Algiers,'' a spokeswoman for the company said when contacted by Reuters.

Le Monde, which did not identify a source for its information, said that concern in the French counter-terrorist services was growing after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden mentioned French President Nicolas Sarkozy's name for the first time in a video made public earlier this month.

Remarks on Sunday by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who said France should prepare for the possibility of war with Iran, had also heightened fears, it said.

REUTERS ARB AS1637

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