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SECURITY IN FRANCE

SECURITY

French transport is vulnerable even with 1,600 more police

France will deploy 1, 600 soldiers and restrict access to transport hubs, but will it really prevent terrorists from carrying out deadly attacks at airports or rail stations?

French transport is vulnerable even with 1,600 more police
Photo: AFP

The response from the French government was rapid.

Within hours of bombs ripping through the departure area of Zeventem international airport in Brussels and Maelbeek metro station interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve laid out the latest French response to prevent similar attacks in France.

A further 1,600 police and gendarmes to be mobilised, including 400 in the Ile-de-France region around Paris.

The extra reinforcements will be used to boost security at France’s borders as well as air, sea and rail transport hubs, like Charles de Gaulle airport and Gare du Nord rail station. Soldiers will also be used to reinforce police patrols.

Cazeneuve also said access to public areas of transport hubs will be restricted to those with tickets or valid ID and checks and searches of passengers “will also become systematic”.

'Nobody stops you'

But on Wednesday the day after the Brussels bombings, apart from the increased police presence, it appeared to be business as usual at Gare du Nord station and Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.

The Local’s Louise Nordstrom said groups of police could be seen standing together at the transport hubs, but there was no sign of passengers being searched or asked for tickets or ID before entering.

At the Charles de Gaulle airport, Marjorie, a 68-year-old retiree from Burgundy who was travelling to Bristol, said she was surprised to find that there weren't more checks when entering the airport.

“You just walk in with your bag and there's nobody stopping you or anything. I thought there would at least be people by the doors to check you,” she told The Local.

Even if the new measures were in place will they really make it safer for people travelling around France?

“Aviation and public transport in general remain an attractive target for terrorist groups. The risk can never be 100 percent eliminated,” Ben Vogel, editor of IHS Jane's Airport Review told AFP.

The challenge of stopping an attack is greater when the perpetrators target unsecured areas such as departure or check-in areas, he said.

'Terrorists will simply choose their target'

Even if it may not reduce the risk, reacting to a terror attack by boosting security is still the common tactic of governments.

Following the foiled gun attack on a Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris in August the French government decided to install metal detector “portiques” at the entrance to the platforms in Gare du Nord.

However expert at the time dismissed the expensive move as worthless and pure “security theatre”.

“The terrorists will say ok, if you are going to control security on the trains, then we will just target the Metro or the buses. They can make their choice of target. I’m afraid it will still happen,” French terror expert Francois-Bernard Huyge told The Local.

Yet Huyge accepts the French government’s hands are effectively tied.

“Security is based on the principle of precaution. If you are an official or company chief you can’t take the risk of something happening because if it does, you will be crucified,” said Huyge. “We know it’s useless, but they are still going to do it.”

Interior Minister Cazeneuve himself accepted there were insurmountable logistical problems when it came to securing transport hubs.

“If you set up checks at the entrance to airports you going to clog up the airports, you are going to make it impossible for the economy to work,” Cazeneuve said.

“If you create queues in front of airports, you also create targets for terrorists,” he added.

'More security will make them reflect'

However terror experts and French lawmakers insisted there were benefits to the security measures when it came to stopping an attack.

“If we increase the difficulty for the terrorist to commit the act then firstly it causes him to reflect on what he’s doing,” security expert Jean-Claude Allard, head of research at the IRIS think tank told The Local.

“It’s just like preventing burglars from entering a house. The extra security makes them hesitate and if they hesitate, they may have to come up with a new plan and do more research and this might lead them into the hands of intelligence services,” said Allard.

French MP Gilles Savary, proponent of a new transport security law passed by parliament this month, which pushed for more random controls and searched of passengers, said the aim was to “tighten the net as far as possible” but accepted that “someone can always get through”.

“If Zaventem was an inaccessible bunker they would have hit a market in Brussels. So we have a choice between 'bunkerization' and daily life, and between the two there is a risk,” he told AFP.

'Public could hold the key'

Passengers travelling through Gare du Nord and Charles de Gaulle airports on Wednesday were well aware of that risk, but supported the increased police presence.

One Eurostar traveller at Gare du Nord, who asked not to be named, told The Local that although the attacks wouldn't prevent her from using public transport, she said she feels increasingly worried about the potential risks in doing so.

“I'm more careful now, I'm being more aware,” she said, noting that the upped police presence was reassuring.

And another passenger about to take a flight from Charles de Gaulle airport said: “I think it's been shown that they can prevent attacks. I do believe they prevent a lot of things that they never tell us about.”

Ironically it may be the public themselves who are the greatest weapon in preventing terror attacks, hence why the government has repeatedly asked them to be on the guard and report anything suspicious.

“The biggest danger is to lower our guard,” French senator Francois Bonhomme, who wrote a recent report on transport security told Liberation newspaper.

“From this point of view, the attention and cooperation of citizens is essential.”

 

 

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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