LATEST: French internet cables sabotage – what we know so far

A criminal investigation has begun into the apparently coordinated attack that left towns and cities across France suffering internet outages on Wednesday. Here's what we know so far.

LATEST: French internet cables sabotage - what we know so far
Fibre optic cables under Paris (Photo: Eric Piermont / AFP)

Internet and phone services were down or running slowly in multiple French towns and cities on Wednesday after fibre optic cables were cut overnight in suspected attacks on the crucial data infrastructure, telecom operators said.

The operators have now filed a joint complaint and a criminal investigation has begun into the attacks, which saw fibre-optic cables cut in multiple locations across France.

The criminal investigation was opened into “damaging property against the fundamental interests of the nation”, as well as attacking an IT system and criminal conspiracy.

What’s going on?

Slowdowns and outages were reported to internet services on Wednesday morning in several major French cities, following reported acts of vandalism on the fibre optic network.

The operators Free, Bouygues Telecom and SFR appear to have been the worst hit, with Orange saying its customers were not affected. 

Most areas managed to restore service by the end of Wednesday, although many people reported slower than usual service as operators switched to back-up networks.

What has caused it?

According to the operators, it was caused by fibre-optic cables being deliberately cut.

Michel Combot, director general of the FFT (Fédération française des Télécoms) told France Info: “It was an almost professional act – several coordinated attacks across the country with a few minutes.

“It is an attack of unprecedented scale.”

Operators reported that the cutting all appears to have happened at around 4am on Wednesday.

SFR says it was the victim of “well-structured malicious acts around 4am”, adding that the number of outages and their timing suggests a coordinated act.

Shortly before 12 noon, Free posted images on its Twitter timeline of cut lines.

Which tows were affected?

The Downdetector site, on which users can indicate disruption to services, peaks in reports of problems for Free users appeared around Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Reims, Strasbourg and Lille, while the same site’s map for SFR users highlights increased issues in Paris, Troyes, Lyon, Nantes and Marseille.

The SFR infrastructure is also used by Bouygues Telecom and Free – and an estimated 100,000 Free customers have been affected, the company said. SFR has not yet audited the number of affected customers, while Bouygues said that it does not use the affected links. Orange customers are also not affected.

Who is responsible?

This is of course the big question, but it’s too early to say and an investigation has been launched. The government has been kept informed of progress.

Apparently, coordinated attacks on fibre optic cables are unprecedented.

“This sort of incident at this scale never happens,” one security source told AFP on condition of anonymity. “It’s the first time and we don’t know who it is for the moment.” 

In March 2020, fibre optic cables used for Orange’s network were intentionally cut in the Paris region, depriving tens of thousands of users of internet connections, although the latest attack is on a  much wider scale. 

Combot added that in recent years there has been a rising number of small-scale acts of vandalism on the telecoms network – burned pylons, cut cables etc – and called for tougher sentences to discourage the vandals.

Member comments

  1. In March, the damage to the Orange fibre network was widespread. In Charente-Maritime, ours among many thousands of households affected.

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French court orders partial release for convicted Corsican nationalist

A French court on Tuesday ordered the partial release of a Corsican nationalist who has served 24 years in jail for the 1998 murder of a top French official.

French court orders partial release for convicted Corsican nationalist

Under the ruling, Pierre Alessandri will be allowed out of jail to work for a landscaping company in the daytime and will be granted a full conditional release in a year if he behaves well.

The relaxation of Alessandri’s conditions of detention came amid tensions between the Mediterranean island’s pro-autonomy leaders and the French state, after a fellow Corsican detained in the same case was killed in a French prison in March.

Alessandri and a third Corsican detainee were transferred from mainland France to a jail in Corsica in April after the murder of Yvan Colonna.

The Paris appeals court granted Alessandri “a probationary partial release” of 12 months from February 13, the prosecutor-general Remy Heitz said.

If he behaves well, he would then be granted “conditional release” for another ten years, he said.

Alessandri’s lawyer Eric Barbolosi hailed the ruling as a “great relief”.

“For the first time in a court of appeals, the magistrates made a decision based on the criteria necessary for a conditional release, not the particular nature of the case,” he said.

Alessandri had served enough time to be eligible for such a release by 2017, and had already petitioned to be freed three times.

But national anti-terror prosecutors objected, and an appeals court barred his release.

The country’s highest court then quashed one of these decisions, ordering the Paris appeals court to re-examine it.

Colonna, a former goat herder, was announced dead on March 21 after an Islamist extremist who accused him of blasphemy strangled and suffocated him in a prison in the southern town of Arles in mainland France.

He was detained in 2003 after four years on the run, and sentenced in 2007, and then again in 2011, to life in jail over the killing in 1998 of the French government prefect of Corsica, Claude Erignac.

The killing was the most shocking of a series of attacks by pro-independence militant group FLNC.

Alessandri and another nationalist, Alain Ferrandi, had already been sentenced to life in jail in 2003 over the murder.

Ferrandi, who was transferred to the same Corsican jail, has also requested to be released on parole, and a decision is due on February 23rd.

Colonna’s murder sparked violent protests in Corsica.

It galvanised the nationalist movement and led President Emmanuel Macron’s government to offer talks about giving greater political autonomy to the territory.