Recent postings on a Web forum commonly used by al Qaeda and its worldwide supporters threaten a terrorist attack on Paris, a European capital that has so far avoided the ire of radical Islamic fundamentalists.
CBS News, which monitors jihadist Internet forums and chat rooms on a regular basis, first noted several postings on the al-Ekhlhaas forum on Jan. 4, 2008 calling for militant action against France's capital and leaders.
Authorities in Paris contacted by CBS News would not comment on the specifics of the latest Web threats, but said they "constantly renew calls for vigilance by police out on beats."
One posting in particular, by a forum member using the name "Murabit Mowahed," was written as a plea for Muslims in France to take up arms against the country, and offered justification for doing so.
Mowahed's posting, titled, "Striking Against the French Capital, Goals and Benefits," names the country's relatively new president Nicolas Sarkozy, and his policies, as the motivation for attack.
He claims Sarkozy, formerly the French Interior Minister, is an "anti-Muslim," and alludes to the new leader's "ambitions" in North Africa as proof, and justification for militancy against France.
After offering that alone as a reason, the posting then goes on to provide practical information on Paris; how the local government functions, transportation hubs and geographical features. Mowahed even gives a piece of trivia: "Paris is known as the city of lights because, in 1828, it was the first city in Europe with lamp posts in the streets."
Mowahed then lists 25 of the city's most important tourist landmarks, or "legitimate targets," starting with the Eiffel Tower. He says with its cafe and museum-rich streets and its internationally-vital Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris makes a "symbolically important capital" to target.
Mowahed lists eight "benefits" of attacking Paris, including, "silencing Sarkozy and stopping his growing ambitions in the Islamic Maghreb (North Africa)."
The third benefit he gives is creating "a boiling situation in France" to destabilize the national government. Paris has witnessed widespread unrest in the recent past.
France is home to huge numbers of immigrants from North Africa, mainly Morocco and Algeria, thousands of whom live in impoverished apartment complexes in the Paris suburbs. It was the young men in these disenfranchised communities who drove weeks of violent rioting in 2005, and several less significant flare-ups last year. Most of the youths are Muslim, and its members of this community that Mowahed was likely seeking to incite.
Al-Ekhlass forum members responded in droves, with many reiterating calls for an attack. One member, with the username "Abu Amina," claimed to have plans already formulated.
"I will do it. Wait and you'll see," read Abu Amina's first response, posted about four hours after Mowahed's initial message.
Another four hours later Abu Amina wrote, "I apologize, Brothers of the Faith, for not unveiling my plans to you ... the brothers advised me not to elaborate on the plan in order to prevent it being thwarted if things were put in place for its execution."
Abu Amina later responds to questions from other members about the justification for an attack on Paris, that, unlike nearby European capitals London and Madrid, has avoided any serious terrorist attack since the U.S.-led war on terror began.
Asked why jihadists should launch a new battle front against the French, Abu Amina responds: "We opened no front against France, France joined the war on Muslims long ago."
He offers as evidence a clip from a French-language news article about France sending war planes to help the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, and a link to a video report on the same topic by France 24 television.
Asked about the threats, officials at Paris police headquarters would only tell CBS News they "constantly renew calls for vigilance by police out on beats" and at sensitive or well-known buildings and monuments. The city's color-coded terrorism alert warning system had not been upgraded as of Wednesday from its second-highest level (red), where it has been for some time.
The Paris Judicial Police Headquarters declined to comment on the postings.
A former senior anti-terrorism official at France's domestic intelligence agency (DST) told CBS News he had heard reports about the recent "chatter" online, and that al-Ekhlass is recognized as one of the forums used by al Qaeda adherents, but noted the name Murabit Mowahed meant nothing to him.
The former DST official, who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity, said he was unaware of any increase in the quantity of attack-related forum content, or of new credible threats against France specifically.
He added that current French anti-terrorism policy is "preemptive"; authorities seek to arrest identified suspects under a catch-all charge before they have acquired all the materials needed for an attack. If there is a real imminent threat, he said, "there will be rapid arrests."
France has publicized no terror-related arrests for weeks, and the most recent dealt with suspects allegedly trying to send materials from France to Algeria, not smuggle people or goods into Europe, according to the ex-DST official.
CBS News producer Bob Albertson in Paris contributed to this report.
By Tucker Reals