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TERRORISM

France launches smartphone ‘terror alert’ app

France is taking no chances over the terror threat to the country and that means launching a new smartphone app.

France launches smartphone 'terror alert' app
File photo: BFM TV
A new smartphone app to alert users to possible terror attacks was launched by the French government on Wednesday in time for the start of Euro 2016, amid growing security concerns over the tournament.
   
The application, which is free to download in both French and English, will send users a warning “in case of a suspected attack,” said the interior ministry, which has piloted and introduced the service.
  
It will also alert users — who must agree to be geolocated — about “unexpected events” such as the breaching of flood defences.
   
Alerts will appear on the app less than 15 minutes after the incident has been confirmed by authorities, and will be customised according to the user's exact location.
   
The government said the app was developed after November's jihadist attacks in Paris — including on the main stadium — which killed 130 people.
   
On Tuesday, Britain warned fans going to France for the football championships there was a “high threat from terrorism” and that stadiums, fan zones and transport hubs were potential targets.
The month-long tournament kicks off on Friday and is expected to attract two million visitors to France.
   
Users of the app will also be able monitor alerts for up to eight different geographical zones, allowing them to check on family members or friends.
   
It will also provide advice on how to stay safe, with information tailored to each particular situation, the ministry added.
   
The government hopes the app will help users — or app “ambassadors” as it calls them — spread reliable, official information about the security situation across social media.
   
This could help prevent France's emergency services hotlines from becoming overwhelmed, said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, adding the app would “keep the public up to date with what we know.”
   
Although it was launched for Euro 2016, it will be developed further after the tournament.
 

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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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