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SECURITY

France beefs up patrols after Boston blasts

France ordered police patrols to be stepped up on Tuesday after at least three people were killed and 140 wounded in two explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. France's president expressed solidarity with the US.

France beefs up patrols after Boston blasts
French soldiers on patrol around the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

Interior Minister Manuel Valls has asked local officials and the security forces "to reinforce without delay the presence of patrols" across the country, a statement from the ministry said.

People are "asked to be vigilant as far as suspicious parcels or abandoned luggage are concerned … without giving in to panic".

Boston police did not immediately say whether the explosions were part of a terrorist attack, but marathon organizers said it was a twin bombing.

France has been under heightened security measures following its military intervention in Mali earlier this year.

The government raised the country’s national alert system, the Plan Vigipirate, to “reinforced red”, the second highest warning level after receiving non-specific threats from various Islamist militant groups.

Since the alert system was raised to “reinforced red”, measures have been taken to protect public institutions and increase security around major transport hubs such as the capital’s train stations and airports.

France has only ever once raised its security level to the highest level “crimson”, which was during Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah’s shooting spree in March last year.

Early on Tuesday, French President François Hollande voiced "France's complete solidarity with the American authorities and people" following deadly blasts at the Boston Marathon.

In a statement, the head of state expressed "his very strong feelings following the explosions that hit the the city of Boston" that left three dead and more than 140 injured.

"In tragic circumstances, the head of state offers his condolences to the families of the victims and expresses France's complete solidarity with the American authorities and people," the statement from the Elysée said.

Fears of further attacks have clearly been heightened especially at airports where no chances are being taken.

A New York bound Air France  flight was delayed at Paris on Tuesday morning after a suspect bag was found on board. The pilot ordered a "decontamination procedure" which involved all passengers getting off the plane so a thorough search could take place. The bag, which proved to be of not danger, had been left on the plane by a passenger from a previous flight.

Paris’s own marathon took place just over one week ago. Organizers told AFP on Tuesday there had been no specific threats to target it.

"I was not informed of any specific threats this year, no more than usual," said organizer Joel Laine.

"The only time where we needed to take action, was in 1991 where, on account of the Gulf War, we had to cancel the race. The organizers are not able to do anything in the face of these type of groups who target sports events."

But Laine said the Boston attack could have an impact on future sporting events, not least the London Marathon which is due to take place next week.

“There will be without doubt a climate of suspicion for a good while surrounding these type of events. I am thinking notably of the London Marathon.

"I am thinking of the anxiety this will instill in the competitors and their families."

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TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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