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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 February, 2004, 09:43 GMT
Al-Qaeda 'joins headscarf row'
Osama Bin Laden with Ayman al-Zawahiri
Zawahiri is considered Osama Bin Laden's deputy
Al-Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has reportedly criticised a French law that includes the banning of Islamic headscarves in state schools.

The decision shows "the grudge the western crusaders have against Islam," Mr Zawahiri said in a tape broadcast on Arabic satellite station al-Arabiya.

The tape said the decision by French President Jacques Chirac was part of an ongoing campaign against Islam.

The ban on religious symbols sparked protests by Muslims and other groups.

Mr Zawahiri has been heard on a number of audio and video tapes since he and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden lost their bases in Afghanistan in 2001.

In the latest tape - if it is confirmed to be him - he said that the headscarf ban was not restricted to France "but a policy implemented by the crusader-Zionists through their agents in Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia and elsewhere in the countries of Islam".

The French legislation - which also prohibits large crucifixes, Jewish skullcaps and other signs of faith - was passed by the lower house of parliament on 10 February.

It will be examined by the French senate on 2 March and looks certain to pass easily through parliament and come into force in time for the start of the new school year in September.

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