France is strengthening security within the country and at its embassies abroad after al Qaeda's North African franchise, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, on Tuesday issued a threat against the country, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday, though he urged the latest threat by the terror group not be exaggerated.
"Any threat from AQIM must be taken seriously," Mr. Le Drian said on French TV BFM, echoing comments from French President Francois Hollande a day earlier.
In a video message posted online Tuesday, a leader of AQIM called upon Muslims around the world to attack French interests because of the country's military intervention in Mali.
Using the media to send out messages "is a weapon to provoke concern," Mr. Le Drian said. "We must be vigilant but mustn't exaggerate this statement, which comes at a time when AQIM has been weakened in Mali."
The minister said France is nevertheless watchful. Interior Minister Manuel Valls has strengthened security measures within the country and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has given instructions to reinforce security at France's embassies, Mr. Le Drian said. The defense ministry is also ensuring "vigilance in all places were French troops are present," the minister added.
French police have been on a heightened state of alert since France launched a military intervention in Mali in January to dislodge Islamist militants there. The police earlier this year raised the national security alert to "strengthened red," the second-highest level.
The intervention in Mali has been ongoing with French troops expected to withdraw gradually and be replaced by an international force comprising soldiers mainly from West Africa.
"We are in the after-war stage but the war is not over," Mr. Le Drian said.